How to Protect Your Social Media Privacy
Sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are great for connecting with others. From posts to Tweets, these sites are fun to be a part of—unless you’re putting your privacy at risk. Whatever social media platforms you’re on, follow these social media privacy and safety tips to protect your social media privacy.
Five ways to improve your social media privacy
Optimize your social media privacy settings
Often users don’t even realize the options available to them in their social media privacy settings. Though social networks automate privacy settings, users can change them anytime to hide more information from their accounts, block tracking apps, stop cookies, limit who sees their posts, and generally improve their Internet safety.
Each social media site has different customizable privacy settings, but very few start on the most private settings. For whatever social media apps you frequently use, find these settings and adjust them to maximize your online privacy.
It also helps to use a virtual private network or proxy when browsing online or using social media, as these change your IP address and add an extra layer of privacy. Once you install one, find IP address information on the What’s My IP homepage and check to see if your VPN or proxy is working.
Turn off your location
Many social media sites request permission to access your location when you open them. They use this information to geotag posts and provide geographically relevant suggestions in your feed. However, sharing your location online is risky.
Some geolocation tags can show your exact location, not just your city or town. Anyone who views your social media posts could potentially find you in person, which makes you vulnerable.
Furthermore, if you share online that you’re somewhere other than your home or place of residence, someone may take advantage of your vacation to rob your home. Don’t share your location with others on the web, and disable your location in various social media apps where possible to best protect yourself and your privacy.
Limit the amount of personal information you share
Once something is posted online, you lose control over where it ends up. Sharing personal information on social media puts your privacy at risk. While it’s understandable that a certain amount of personal information does get out when you use social media – the whole point is sharing with others, which is great in moderation – make sure that you never share the following sensitive information on social media:
- Home address
- Your current location
- Phone numbers
- Social Security number
- Information about your credit cards
- Bank account information
- Confidential information about yourself or others
Some of this personal data might not seem like a big deal. However, even posting something as simple as the name of the sushi restaurant you’re currently at for lunch helps people looking to commit identity theft, real-life crime, and more. It also increases the amount of data collected by the social media sites themselves. Keep as much of your private information to yourself as you can.
Make posts mindfully
Even if you keep your accounts private, posts or statements made on the Internet don’t stay hidden. Make sure that you don’t post pictures or other content that you wouldn’t be okay with anyone – whether it be your boss or a complete stranger – seeing.
Furthermore, more and more employers are performing social media background checks when screening candidates. This means that the content you put out online could help you get a job; it could also hinder you in the process or cost you a job opportunity altogether.
Keep this mentality when choosing your profile picture, biography, and username. Whether your accounts are private or public, these three pieces of information can be viewed by anyone. Consider what you should and shouldn’t share in your bio, and don’t choose a username or profile picture that paint you in a negative light.
Change your passwords frequently
Your password is the first line of defense against hackers and anyone who wants to access your online accounts. To best protect your privacy, you should change your passwords frequently. This doesn’t mean every week; changing your passwords every six months to a year on social media accounts will help keep you more secure.
When you change your passwords, ensure you’re using strong, random passwords. A strong password should be at least 12-14 characters long and contain uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Never use personal information when you create your passwords. If it’s something you’ve already posted about on social media, like your pet’s name or an important date, you put your privacy at an even greater risk.
Consider using a password generator or password manager to create secure passwords and make sure you don’t share passwords with anyone, whether online or in person. Enable two-factor authentication wherever possible to strengthen your accounts and keep your usernames and passwords secure.
How to optimize your social media privacy settings
Each social media app has its own customizable settings for privacy. Taking the time to go through each app individually is worth it; you can adjust your social media privacy settings to make sure you’re comfortable with how much you’re sharing on each app. Follow the instructions below to optimize your privacy for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and TikTok.
Improve your Facebook privacy
Facebook, now operating as a subsidiary of Meta, collects a lot of information from its users. Creating an account requires that you provide your date of birth, gender, and email address or mobile number. Unless you change your Facebook settings, your posts are automatically public, which means your basic information, as well as your pictures, can be seen by anyone.
To optimize your Facebook privacy settings and avoid Facebook scams, try making your Facebook account unsearchable online or limiting who sees your posts. You can do both things in the Facebook privacy settings. You’ll also be able to control the visibility of posts you’re tagged in and turn off the app’s facial recognition feature, which automatically tags users in photos.
To access your Facebook privacy settings:
- Go to the Facebook app or site.
- Click on your profile photo in the top right corner (on the website) or the three lines in the bottom right corner (in the app).
- Click Settings & privacy > Settings and edit your settings accordingly.
You can also run a Facebook privacy checkup, which guides you through your current settings and shows you how to make desired changes to your account. Find the Facebook privacy checkup in Settings and privacy > Privacy shortcuts > Take a Privacy Checkup.
Improve your Instagram privacy
Instagram also uses hashtags as part of its community model. Users don’t have to use hashtags, but it’s important to understand that if you hashtag a post, it’s meant to show up in a collection with all other posts with the same tag. Avoid using hashtags if you want to limit your account’s public exposure, as hashtags potentially allow your private information to reach an even wider audience.
In your Instagram privacy settings, you can control who sees your posts and stories on your Instagram account, stop sharing your location when you post, make your account private, and more. To access your Instagram privacy settings:
- Go to the Instagram app.
- Click on your profile in the bottom right corner.
- On your profile page, select the three lines in the top left corner.
- Click Settings and Privacy.
- Find the settings you’re looking for:
- To change your account privacy, blocked and close friends lists, and hidden stories, find Who can see your content.
- For controlling interactions, like tags, mentions, and story replies, scroll to How others can interact with you.
- For general account changes, click Account Center at the top of your settings.
- To change your account privacy, blocked and close friends lists, and hidden stories, find Who can see your content.
To do an Instagram privacy check on a desktop computer or PC, click your profile picture in the top right and click Settings.
Improve your Snapchat privacy
Like Instagram, Snapchat needs access to your camera roll and camera when you start using the app. It also uses your location and collects both your birthday and your email when you sign up. It asks for your phone number, which you can decline; however, if a friend uploads their contact list to Snapchat, the app may get your number anyway.
While most social media apps use profile pictures for user accounts, Snapchat uses Bitmojis, which are customizable user avatars. These are beneficial to users’ privacy since their appearance is entirely in users’ control.
Snapchat provides users with many ways to customize their privacy experience. You can keep your location and birthday private and even control who sees your posts from your Snapchat privacy settings. To access your Snapchat settings to improve social media safety:
- Go to the Snapchat app.
- Click your profile icon in the top left corner.
- On your profile page, select the gear icon in the top right corner.
- Scroll down to the Privacy Controls section to edit your privacy settings.
Improve your Twitter privacy
When you sign up for Twitter, you’ll be prompted to enter your name, phone number, birthday, and email address. While you can provide your location on your profile, Twitter can also collect your location – including each location you tweet at – using GPS and IP address data.
Though it isn’t information you give them, Twitter is known for creating user data profiles based on the Tweets that users make. If you tend to make political or gendered statements, Twitter can likely determine more about you than you realize.
You can decide who sees your Tweets or tags you in photos, change your discoverability settings which limits how other users can find you, and filter who messages you directly on the app. To access your Twitter privacy settings:
- Go to the Twitter app.
- Tap your account icon in the top left corner.
- Tap Settings and privacy.
- Tap Privacy and safety and adjust your privacy settings.
To access the Twitter privacy settings on a desktop computer or PC, click the three-dot More menu on the left side of the page instead of your account icon to find the Settings and Support > Settings and privacy tabs.
Improve your Tiktok privacy
Despite its rapid rise in popularity, TikTok has come under fire for its perceived lack of user security. Critics claim the app is collecting and selling user data to foreign adversaries, which isn’t a baseless concern. TikTok accounts do collect a lot of user data, from profile information to access to a user’s camera roll, camera, and microphone. However, just like with other social media apps, you have some control over your account’s privacy.
Within your TikTok privacy settings, you can control whether or not your account is private, who your account is recommended to, and who can comment on your videos, tag you, and message you. To access your TikTok privacy settings:
- Go to the TikTok app.
- Click on the profile button in the bottom right corner.
- On your profile page, click the three lines in the top right corner.
- Select Settings and Privacy.
- Select Privacy and edit your privacy settings as desired.
Additional online safety tips for social media
Online privacy and online safety go hand in hand. Keeping yourself and your information private makes you safer online, which, in turn, reduces your risk for identity theft and other information-based crimes. In addition to optimizing your online privacy on social networking sites, keep these online safety tips in mind:
- Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want someone else to see. You can delete content, but it's never gone from the Internet entirely.
- Don’t get into arguments with others online. It isn’t worth it, and will only cause you stress and potential danger, such as at risk for doxxing.
- Don't assume that everyone you meet online or met online is the same in person. Catfishing is a real and serious danger.
- Use caution online to avoid scams. Scammers often try to reach victims through direct messages on social media. Furthermore, many scams or pyramid schemes use social media for promotion, as photos are easily edited to lend validity to false claims of success.
- Be careful when accepting followers. If you have a private social media account, you can decide who can and can’t follow you. To be safe, only allow those whom you know well to follow you, and verify that the accounts are actually theirs before you hit “accept” on the following request.
Whether you spend hours a day or just a few minutes a week on social media, it’s important to spend that time wisely. Optimize your privacy on social media and keep online safety in mind for the best and most secure online experience.