The 5 Biggest Social Media Privacy Mistakes

Privacy on social media is somewhat of an oxymoron. Many people think their social media accounts are private when they are not. Facebook is especially notorious for leaking information about you when they add new features designed to benefit brands. In our Practice Safe Social workshop, we give a true/false quiz up front on the 12 biggest social media privacy mistakes people make just to see how much people know. Here are five big privacy mistakes people make on social media and what you can do to fix them.

#1: When people tag me in photos on Facebook, only the two of us see those photos.

Wrong.  If you are tagged in a photo, your friends will see it and those groups the tagger has approved will also see it as well. In addition, if any of your friends or the tagger’s friend tag that photo, the reach of the photo is increased to their audience as well. Also, there’s always the awful screenshot. When I think of posting photos online, I always run it through the “screenshot filter.” If I don’t mind the photo being passed along to the public, it’s fine.

You can control who sees tagged photos, and you even have the right to pre-approve any tagged photos of yourself by just going to your privacy settings on Facebook (the little gray sprocket, see below), go to the area on the left tab called “Timeline and Tagging”, and make sure your settings are where you want them to be. I have the feature that allows me to review any tagged photos of myself set to “On”. Those requests to approve tagged photos will show up in your Activity Log.


#2: If I protect my Twitter account, nobody can see my protected tweets except people I approve.

While this is true in principle, it is not true anymore. As we’ve seen in the news, protected tweets have a way of making it into the public eye. Even though they cannot technically be retweeted (through Twitter), they can certainly be a victim of “copy and paste”. And of course, there’s always the screenshot. There is even an app out now that will allow people to send fake tweets using other people’s accounts called It’s getting harder to tell the real from the fake anymore on Twitter, which makes it a channel less appealing to people trying to protect their reputation. Add hacking to the mix, and you have a perfect storm.

#3: People I play games with on Facebook cannot see my posts or get my personal information.

Playing social games on Facebook requires friending people. If you are searching for people to play games with and friend someone you do not know, they are a real friend with full access to all your information. Facebook frowns on friending strangers to play games and claims to have a “friend block” feature to punish people who send friend requests to strangers. However, if you are not reported, you will never be in danger of being blocked. Bottom line: only play games with friends—and skip playing with “friends of friends” unless you know them personally. To control the friend requests you get, go to the padlock on your toolbar (see below) and check your settings in “who can contact me”. I have mine set to only “friends of friends” because that is as private as it gets.


#4: If I send a photo on Snapchat, the photo disappears forever after a few seconds.

While this is technically true, it is now becoming more popular to save photos from Snapchat and publish them than it is to just send them. Because smartphones can have screen capture apps, nothing is safe anymore, anywhere, from anyone. Snapchat, which is popular among the teen crowd, has gained notoriety as a way for teens to send racy photos of themselves out to people. Users mistakenly think that because the app purports to make pictures disappear, they actually will. Fix: don’t use Snapchat. Or, if you do, remember the screenshot filter concept.

#5: It doesn’t matter what kind of information is in my Facebook profile, as only my friends can see it anyway.

Wrong. Facebook has an advertising clientele to please. Your data is their open door to more advertising sales. With the advent of Graph Search, we’ve seen that our information is only private on Facebook if we don’t include it in our profiles. See this article for embarrassing Graph Search results that just might convince you to whittle your profile down a bit. But as Tom Scott points out, it is not strangers who endanger your reputation searching for silly categories on Graph Search, it is people who know you. When somebody decides to ruin your reputation, your open privacy settings on social media accounts might give them plenty of ammunition. Fix: Have your privacy settings locked down if you value your reputation. If you need people be able to contact you on Facebook, set up a personal brand page. This applies especially to school teachers, administrators, business owners, athletes, professional entertainers, politicians, and the like. Or, just be careful who you friend and follow.

We cover many more privacy mistakes in our Practice Safe Social workshops, so stay tuned for more in the weeks to come. If you’re a coach or teacher, be sure and pass these tips along to your students. And, please add your privacy tips in the comments below.

Be sure and read The Next 5 Biggest Privacy Mistakes here.


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