Social media is a broad term that refers to applications and systems that allow you to
connect with other people and share news and photos.
Social networks are websites that allow you to connect with many other users and share
your opinions, news, and thoughts.
Examples of social media ‘networks’ include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. But
there are many other social media solutions out there on the Internet. Even some newer
online payment systems like Venmo have a social media element built into them.
These social networks can be a great way for people to stay in touch with friends and family
who live far away. You can share updates, thoughts, jokes, photos, and even videos with
others in your ‘social network’.
But social media should be used with caution and awareness.
Loss of Control over Data
One caveat to social media usage that many forget or disregard is the nature of the
messages and media you are sharing. Critically, if you share something on social media you
immediately lose control over the dissemination of that information.
Once you’ve published a photo or update to your social network it is out there for good.
Those messages or photos or videos are “in the cloud” (see the Other Terminology section
for a definition of what the Cloud is) – i.e. they are permanently stored on a computer server
somewhere on the planet (or maybe on countless other people’s computers once they’ve
also viewed your shared image or message!), and you can’t get them back.
So be very careful when you share anything on social media. An off-the-cuff thought or
comment can come back to haunt you for many years to come, especially if the ‘court of
public opinion’ takes umbrage at something you did or said (or didn’t do or didn’t say!).
Another aspect of social media that is frequently overlooked, and often closely-related to
control over one’s data, is how each social network company is handling privacy. Social
networks ostensibly operate for free. But as a popular saying goes: ‘if you’re not paying for a
product then you are the product!’
In reality, social networks make their money through advertising. And when most users
freely provide a lot of personal information to these companies because of the features and
perceived benefits, it’s easy for them to use that information to create ‘targeted ads’ –
adverts that are designed to entice you the user to buy or view something based on your
personal preferences, thoughts, and feelings.
Closely tied to this allure of leveraging personal information, most social networking
companies deliberately design their product settings to have very lax privacy defaults when
new users sign up. That way they can more easily use your information or sell it to their
partners or corporate customers. In addition, some social networks make it very confusing
and difficult for their users to tighten up their privacy settings.
Shared Credentials and Privacy Concerns
The prospect of tracking users extends far beyond adverts. Many commercial technology
service providers have ready access to their user-base’s most private communications.
Have you ever sent a political rant to your best friend over email? Or a saucy text messaging
to your significant other? Well, there’s a very good chance those messages have been
scanned by the service provider to determine your personal opinions or preferences. And
that data might have been sold on to other companies so they can target you with more
The same thing can even apply to shared credentials. Facebook, Google, and some other
major social media and Internet companies often allow approved partners to use their
services as a way of authenticating users. For example, if you’ve ever seen a smaller
website allow you to ‘login via Facebook’, that website is using Facebook’s authentication
system. They do this because it means one less thing they have to track, and also because
it’s convenient to their users (who have one fewer passwords to remember). But this can
also raise some possible security concerns:
• It can allow hackers to target these smaller websites as a backdoor into one of your
main social media accounts, as well as any other sites that also use those shared
• It can enable the big social media companies to access data you might not want them
to see, and further expand their profiling of you.
So a good rule of thumb is to avoid using shared credentials and create a unique password
for every website.
Social Media Recommendations
So if you do decide to use social media, here are some recommendations that will help
maintain your privacy and personal information:
• Share as little personal information as possible. Many social networks provide
‘prefer not to disclose’ options to questions like gender, marital status, hobbies,
employer, profession, etc. Whenever given that option, take it. Alternatively, if
they don’t offer such an option, enter bogus information. However, be aware that
if you enter a bogus name: a) you might be violating that social network’s terms
of use; and b) you make it very difficult for your friends or family to find your
profile or verify your identity on that social network.
• Do not upload or associate your profile with an actual photo of yourself. Instead,
leave your profile picture as a default silhouette image, or use a more generic
‘avatar’ (representative profile image) like a flower, a painting, some sports
equipment, or a building.
• As soon as you’ve signed up to a social network, seek out their privacy settings
in the options or tools on the platform’s menus. If you can’t find them yourself,
use Google or another popular search engine to find instructions on how to
tighten up your security settings on that social network.
• Learn the difference between a private message and a more public ‘post’. Private
messages are usually only shared between you and the explicit user(s) who you
are messaging. Posts are generally visible to either all your friends on that
network or to the entire world.
• Don’t post anything that you might regret others seeing in the future. This can be
a tough one to gauge. But when in doubt, leave it out.
• Don’t post anything that contains sensitive information. This includes photos. And
be mindful and respectful of other people in your photos, videos, or messages.
They might not want their information or appearance sent out to other people,
especially people who you know but they might not know.
• Be very selective about who you add or accept as friends on your social
networks. Don’t add strangers or people who are just casual acquaintances.
Don’t add people who are prone to inflammatory or embarrassing outbursts.
Don’t add people who annoy you. Don’t add people who are emotionally unstable
• Refrain from making impulse posts or messages. A good tip to assist you here is
to first type your message into Notepad or some other text editor on your
computer. Revise it there, and then sit on it for a day or so. If you still want to post
it after that, then copy the text from Notepad and paste it into the social media
post or message box and submit it.
• Only add people to your social network who you know and trust;
• Lock down your privacy settings on all social networks you use;
• Be very careful with what you post on social media.