Confession time: I'm an inveterate social media junkie. From Facebook to Instagram to Diaspora, whenever a new communication platform rolls around--or comes back around--I'm ready to leap aboard.
But social networks are amazing and terrifying in equal measure. You can reach thousands of people worldwide with a single Twitter update, but cybercriminals can use the same tools to pick the perfect victim.
It's impossible to remain completely anonymous while you're using social media--anonymity would defeat the point--but every network has a few key, commonly overlooked privacy settings that take only minutes to set up and drastically improve the security of your shared data.
For this article, I rounded up the three most important privacy settings you should be using, but probably aren't, on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram. Five minutes of setup now could avert hours of social embarrassment and identity recovery down the road.
Lock down Facebook
Facebook not only revolutionized the way we communicate but also spawned the Facebook Fret: that uncomfortable moment before every blind date, extended-family gathering, and job interview when you worry about whether anyone has noticed the embarrassing Christmas-party video your friend tagged you in on Facebook a few years back.
Limit who can find you: Stop worrying and make sure your Facebook profile stays private by clicking the blue gear in the top-right corner of the Facebook website and selecting Privacy Settings. From there, the best thing you can do is make it harder for strangers to find your Facebook profile in the first place by blocking search engines from linking to your profile and limiting who can look up your profile using the email address and phone number you gave to Facebook.
Limiting access to Friends ensures that only people with whom you've already made a connection will be able to search for you using your email address and phone number. But since someone isn't likely to search Facebook in that manner unless they're specifically seeking to get in touch with someone, it's probably a good idea to grant lookup access to Friends of Friends. That way, you can get some mileage out of Facebook's social network by connecting with people your friends trust.
Stop posting in public: Your next stop on the Facebook Privacy Settings to-do list is the 'Who can see my stuff?' section of the Privacy Settings menu. Make sure the 'Who can see your future posts?' option is set to Friends.
Facebook allows you to change content visibility on a post-by-post basis. You can, for example, create status updates that are publicly available or visible only to two or three specific people. But the smartest option is making post visibility friends-only by default, mitigating the damage of any potentially humiliating photos you might upload after a late-night escapade.
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