Internet Safety: How to Decide if Your Social Media Account Should be Public or Private

More than 75 percent of adults are concerned about internet safety. Yet love it or hate it, social media is a nearly non-negotiable part of our lives (how else would we keep up with all of our friends and connections!?). You’re right to be vigilant, but how much social media privacy do you really need to be safe?

We live in a world where everything and everyone is online. It seems the whole world is connected. If you don’t have a social media account, you can appear at best out of touch and at worst, you can seem anti-social. So the last thing you want is for a colleague, a love interest or, for that matter, a future employer to think that you’re incapable of using Facebook.

The big question is: How can you take advantage of social media benefits while maintaining your safety? Many often assume the easiest way to do so is to keep all of your accounts private, but doing so may not provide all of the protections you anticipate. Here, we weigh the privacy pros and cons. 

Public Social Media Profiles

Pros of Having a Public Profile

Having a public profile allows you to take advantage of all of social media’s benefits. The best being that it makes it easy for old friends, colleagues and potential employers to find you. When your profile is public, any audience can view your pages, photos and posts (hey, you may even turn into an influencer!).

Say a friend wants to see what you’re up to with your travels, or a potential employer wants to assess whether you’re a good fit for their culture. With a public profile, they can get a snapshot of your life and connect with you at will, which is at the heart of it, what social media is all about.

Cons of Having a Public Profile

On the other hand, a public profile allows anyone to find you, whether you want them to or not. If you post vacation pictures, you’re essentially advertising that you’re not at home. Perhaps more importantly, there are certainly things that you may not want your employer to know. You could be called in for disciplinary action — or worse.

Also, any personal information you provide — such as your birthdate, pet’s name, first car and where you met your spouse — makes it much easier for fraudsters to victimize you. It isn’t all of the information a thief would need, but it’s a good start.

Private Social Media Profiles

Pros of Having a Private Profile

If your social media account is private, you get to control who sees what. This is useful if your posts are personal or sensitive, or if you would prefer to be able to vet the people requesting to follow you before giving them access to more personal snapshots of your life. Some people choose to remain private if they have been a victim of bullying or harassment. Others simply have a limited need to engage. Maybe they are the organizer of a group but otherwise prefer to minimize their social interactions.

Cons of Having a Private Profile 

Many people choose to go private because they think it will stop harassment. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. The harasser can simply create another account and send you private messages. Another major downside is the signal that you may inadvertently send by having a private profile. A potential employer or friend may wonder what you’re hiding, or may hesitate to reach out with such limited information about you.

Common-Sense Internet Safety

Whether your account is public or private, a few common-sense tips can keep you safer and help you get the most from your social media engagement:

  • Accept the system-generated strong password and change it frequently.
  • Use the proposed two-factor authentication.
  • Avoid opening your social media account on public Wi-Fi, for example, at a coffee shop or airport.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you share (and check your digital footprint using tools like Spokeo regularly).
  • Be careful about providing your location.
  • Review your privacy settings regularly.
  • Monitor your credit report frequently for suspicious activity.

What About Kids’ Social Media Accounts?

Children are even more prone to identity theft than adults. Make sure they are old enough to understand hypothetical situations and follow the same rules as you. Even when kids have public accounts, they should refrain from providing personal information, no matter how seemingly innocuous. Of course, kids should not post, or even comment on, anything inappropriate.

Let Social Media Work for You

The point of social media, after all, is to be social. That includes not just family and friends but also potential relationships with whom you share common interests and values. But it’s really up to you to decide your objectives, whom you want to include in your network and how much you want to share. So get familiar with the social media platforms you use so that you can choose the privacy settings that are right for you.

Still a bit nervous about including people you don’t know in your network? Spokeo is a people information service that allows you to check out the social media posts of others before you connect. It can provide peace of mind for your social media interactions.

Pamela Fay has been a business writer for more than 15 years, with work appearing in publications such as “Legal Times.” She has also worked in the consulting arena since the 1990s, specializing in leadership development, human resources, change management and diversity. Fay holds an M.B.A. from Dartmouth College.

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