Social media is an ever-present part of modern life. It can be enjoyable to share our life experiences with friends and family. But if we're not careful we could be sharing more than we intended, or with a much larger audience than we expected.

Why is oversharing risky?

By posting personal details you could make it easier for criminals to learn important information about you. For example:

  • Posting photos from the trip you're currently on could alert criminals that you're currently out of town.

  • Sharing pictures of your home or hobby could inadvertently reveal that you have valuable items like art, jewelry, electronics, or desirable collections to people who might want to steal them.

  • Photos or information about family members could expose their identities, locations, or potentially make them targets.

  • Information about your life or past could be used to guess your password or security questions. For example, "What was the name of your first pet?" or "Where did you go to high school?" are common security questions that attackers can frequently find the answers to with a simple social media search on their target.

Remember: Once something is shared on the internet it's almost impossible to fully erase it.

What can you do about it?

There are a few things you should do to help reduce the chances of accidentally oversharing and protect your privacy, as well as the privacy of your friends and family.

First and foremost - Be thoughtful about what you share

Once you've posted it, you can never fully delete it. It's usually trivial for somebody to save a copy of that item so even if you pull it back off the social media site that item is still out there where somebody could share it or use it in a way you didn't intend.

Before you share something with somebody consider how you'd feel if that turned up on the front page of your local newspaper.

Also, before you share a photo or video, take a moment to look carefully at the background of those images. Is there anything in the background - notes on a dry-erase board, something on a screen, Post-Its, other people, reflections in a mirror - that should really be cropped out before sharing the image?

Second - Be careful with whom you're sharing content 

Most social media sites allow you to choose if the photo or post is going to be shared with "Everybody" or if it will just be shared with "Friends". Spend a few minutes getting familiar with the sharing settings of your social media accounts, and consider setting up special groups like "Family" for content you only want to share with members of that group.

You may also want to set up other custom lists like "High school classmates" or "My running club".

Check to see if you can set the default audience for your new posts on the social media platforms you're using. Consider setting the default audience to be the most restrictive (such as "Family") and you can always change it to a larger group when you're creating the post, or afterwards.

Third - Curate your "friends" list

It's worth periodically reviewing whom you've connected with on social media and consider removing anybody you don't feel comfortable sharing content with. 

A guideline we sometimes recommend is if they aren't somebody you'd take the time to wish "Happy birthday" to are they really somebody you want to share personal content with?

Fourth - Lock down your accounts

Take a few minutes reviewing the privacy and security settings on your social media. Things you should consider setting or locking down include:

  • Turn on 2-Step Verification (also known as Multifactor Authentication or Two-Factor authentication) to dramatically reduce the chances of somebody getting into your account.

  • Restrict access to your friends list. Consider restricting your list of connections to only be viewable by other people whom you've accepted as connections. When strangers can see your list of connections that can make it easier for them to launch attacks where they pretend to be you.

  • Set access permissions on your photo albums. If you've chosen to share photos on social media see if the site will let you create albums and restrict access to those albums to certain groups. It's usually better to limit access to photos of your family, or other personal pictures, to a smaller group of your contacts and also not let them be viewed by anybody who isn't a contact.

Share thoughtfully

It can be great to share with friends and family. Just be mindful of what you might be inadvertently sharing, and whether the audience you're sharing with is appropriate.

See also

Protecting yourself from identity theft online

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