How to Manage Your Social Media Privacy Settings

Every day we share a wealth of personal information via social media platforms. We tweet at our friends, share vacation photos on Facebook and post selfies on SnapChat. The benefits and joys of social media are numerous but there are privacy risks to consider as well. Overshared private details can be used maliciously by cyber thieves to access sensitive accounts, create fraudulent identities and possibly compromise careers.

Outlined below are the steps that can help keep your most sensitive information safe on social media. Use these steps to help protect yourself and your loved ones online.

Facebook Expand

Facebook is the largest and most popular social network.

Facebook, the largest and most poular social network allows users to connect with friends, coworkers, family, post status updates and so much more. Users can also share personal information, like their birthdate, hometown, activities and political preferences, as well as "tag" themselves and others in uploaded photos.

Facebook has different privacy settings for many aspects of a user's social profile. Privacy settings for photos, status updates, friends' lists, and likes must all be adjusted individually.

The four general audience options are:

  • Public - this means anyone on or off Facebook
  • Friends - Only your friends on Facebook can see this material
  • Custom - This allows you to share or exclude content from select people and lists
  • "Only me" - No one but you can see these posts

To keep your information as secure as possible from strangers, avoid any "public" settings. 


Check your audience

Before posting a status, see what your potential audience will be. You can adjust these settings in two places. 

  • The first is under "Privacy Settings and Tools." Access this menu by finding the downward-pointing arrow in the top right corner. Choose "Settings", and then find "Privacy" on the left column. Here you can decide how public you want your posts to be.
  • The other is easier to access. Click in the "Update Status" field. When you do, you will see a drop dowm menu just to the left of the "post" button. You can choose how public you want your posts to be.
  • Remember, these settings are universal, not case-by-case. 
For the most privacy, select "Friends" from these options to share your thoughts, links, and pictures. This allows you to share with only your friends.

It is important to be mindful of the content you share. New babies, vacations, and homes are fun to share, but this information could compromise your identity with a cybercriminal. Just remember, the fewer details you share online, the safer your information will be.

Manage your privacy settings

By accessing the "Privacy Settings and Tools" panel found above, you can control a broader range of your settings. 

  • "Who can see my stuff?" - OIS reccomends selecting "Friends" to view future posts. Take time to review your Activity Log and your auidence for past posts, to ensure old posts are secure as well.
  • "Who can contact me?" - For maximum security, we reccomend selecting "Friends" or "Friends of Friends" for who can send you friend requests. In this section, you can also filter the messages you will recieve in your Facebook inbox.
  • "Who can look me up?" - In the last privacy section, users have the ability to filter who can find them by searching an email address and phone number. It is reccomended that you select the most restrictive option which is "Friends".
  • "What about Search Engines?" - The last option in this panel is "Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?" It is recommended to select "No". Facebook does note that "If you turn off this setting, it may take a while for search engines to stop showing the link to your timeline in their results".

Guard your personal information

While it is fun to share your high school, birthday, and even your hometown with your friends, it is considered personally identifying information (PII). Paired with other information, these facts could potentially be used to compromise your bank accounts or even your identity. 

In the navigation below your cover photo, select "About". There are seven sections that contain personal information. In these sections, hover below each box of text to see editing options appear in blue. Make sure none of your personal information is public, and for maximum security, select "Only Me" for certain information. 

You can also edit the privacy setting for your "Friend List." In the navigation menu below your cover photo, select "Friends." In the right hand corner of your friends list, select the "pen" tool then select the option "Edit Privacy." You will now be able to control who can see your friends list and the people you are following. It is reccomended to select "Friends" or "Only Me" for both sections. There is also a "Custom" option which allows you to choose to share select information with certain friends.


Manage your apps

Consider examining which third party applications have access to your Facebook profile. To view which apps you have previously approved, access the "Privacy Settings and Tools" panel you found above, and select "Apps" from the left-side bar navigation.

Facebook explains on this page that "On Facebook, your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username, and user ID are always publicly available, including to apps. Apps also have access to your friends list and any information you choose to make public."

Facebook does provide four setting options, as well as a list of all apps you have utilized. In your list of apps, you can edit each app's privacy by selecting the pen tool and the "Edit Settings." In these settings you have the option to change the visibility of app usage and the personal information the app collects.


Control your own timeline

Posts that friends tag you in appear in the news feed, search, and on your timeline despite your best efforts to remain private. You can change this by altering your "Timeline and Tagging" options under "Privacy Settings and Tools." 

  • Enable the feature that allows you to review posts before they are published to your timeline.
  • It is important to note these updates from friends still appear in the News Feed and search.
Even with all of these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private. 


Understand how to QUIT the site

It's usually easy to deactivate your account, but some sites, like Facebook, will retain all your information including pictures, friends, etc. even if you do. Find out how you can delete all of your information. You may have to request that the operators of the site delete it for you. When quitting Facebook, you must submit a deletion request, and that, too, comes with some gotcha's:

  • There will be a delay of unspecified length between submitting your delete request and the actual deletion.
  • If you login to Facebook after submitting your request, your deletion request will be cancelled automatically.
  • There's no easy way to confirm that your deletion request has been completed.
  • Even after deletion, copies of your photos may remain on Facebook servers for technical reasons.


For more information:

Complete Guide to Facebook Privacy


Twitter Expand

Twitter allows users to share 140-character updates, called "tweets," with their friends and followers. Tweets can also include links and photos. The default settings for Twitter sets your account to public, meaning your tweets and information can be viewed by anyone, even non-Twitter users. There are a few simple settings that allows you to make your Twitter account private. 

With a private account:

  • Only Twitter users approved by you can subscribe and see your tweets.
  • Any tweets previously made public will be hidden, and can only be viewed or search by approved followers.
  • Your tweets will also no longer appear in Google searches or be "retweetable."
  • Any @replies you send will not be seen, unless you send them to your approved followers.
To make your Twitter account private, click the wheel icon in the top right of your Twitter homepage and select "Settings" from the drop-down menu then select "Security and Privacy" from the side-bar menu.

Under "Privacy" check the box "Protect my Tweets."

You also have the ability to make some other security choices on this page. It is recommended to opt to recieve login verification requests to your phone and require personal information to reset a password. 

It is also recommended only allowing selct people to tag you in photos, and avoid sharing the location of your tweets. To keep your location private, do not check the "Add a location to my Tweets" box. You can also delete your previous location information in this same area. 

Afterward, be sure to hit the blue "Save changes" button at the bottom of the page.

Even with these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private. 


For more information:

Public and Private Tweets


Instagram Expand

Instagram allows users to upload photos and 15 second videos. Captions and comments are allowed, as well as private picture messaging. 

By default, your profile and posts can be seen by anyone. You can modify your privacy settings to ensure only approved followers can see your pictures. 

To keep your photos private, tap "Edit Your Profile" next to your profile picture and turn on the "Posts are Private" setting. Be sure to save your changes.

Your photos will no longer be accessible to the masses or appear in public searches. Users wanting to connect with you on the app will need to send you a request—and receive your approval—before viewing your pictures and follower list.

Please remember that regardless of your privacy settings, any user will still be able to read your bio, and send a photo or video to you directly.

If you are brave enough to keep your Instagram feed public, the Center must warn you of one more risk. A phone's geo-location software helps pin every photo you take to a location. You may be inclined to show off your sightseeing adventures, but be wary of who can access this information (i.e. everyone).

Before you post a photo, you have the option to select "Add to Your Photo Map." The Center recommends not sharing this information. Be sure to make sure this option is switched to "Off."

If you want to remove geolocation data from previously posted photos, select the profile button on your bottom navigation menu and select the Photo Map tab on your profile page, then choose "Edit." Tap the grid option at the bottom of the screen and select which photos you want to delete from the map.

Even with these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private.


For more information:

Instagram Privacy Settings


SnapChat Expand

SnapChat allows users to take photos and videos, add text and drawings, and send these creations, called "Snaps," to a controlled list of contacts. Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their messages, usually between one and ten seconds, or for an unlimited time in a 24-hour period. After the allotted time, the messages are hidden from the recipient's device and deleted from Snapchat's servers.

By default, only users you have added as friends can send you Snaps. If an unknown Snapchatter tries to send you a Snap, you will receive a notification that they added you, but you will not receive the Snap unless you have approved them as a friend first.

There are two Snapchat privacy settings you can tweak for improved security. Privacy settings can be changed regarding who can send you Snaps, and who can view your "Stories."

  • "Who Can Send Me Snaps?" Here, you have two privacy options: "Everyone" and "My Friends." It is suggested to select "My Friends."
  • "Who Can View My Story?" Here, you have three privacy otpions: "Everyone," "My Friends," and "Custom." It is suggeted to choose "My Friends" or to create a custom list.
Even though these Snaps appear to be fleeting, it is important to understand the nothing on the Internet is truly private.


LinkedIn Expand

LinkedIn is often regarded the most professional social platform, connecting people through their careers and digital resumes. People are unlikely to share pet photos or dinner plans, but instead use the platform to apply for jobs, announce a promotion, or endorse the skills of their co-workers.

While oversharing your career history could lead to tax fraud or social engineering, undersharing your job skills could affect your networking opportunities. Choose carefully which details you want to share with the world.

To explore LinkedIn's privacy settings, hover over your profile picture in the upper right hand corner. Select the "Privacy and Settings" option from the drop down menu.

You first have the ability to turn your activity broadcasts on or off. Choosing "on" will of course alert your connections to any changes in your profile. Linkedin warns, "You may want to turn this option off if you're looking for a job and don't want your present employer to see that you're updating your profile." However if you are looking for a job, and are not currently employed, it would be beneficial for your updates to appear for connections.

You can also control what people will see when you view their profile—you have the option to be visible or not. Using the default settings, your name, photo and headline will appear to anyone whose profile you view; you can, however, choose to be completely anonymous, or to reveal only limited information about yourself. Your settings may depend on your position, title, and career path.

Next, users can choose to share their list of connections with others. You can either share your networking list with first-degree connections or keep the list completely private. Depending on your job and security, choose the option that is best for your career.

Lastly, decide who can see your Linkedin profile picture. You can change your settings to make your photo visible to first-degree connections, your whole network, or anyone viewing your profile. For the best security, consider only letting first-degree connections see your picture.

Even with these privacy settings in place, it is important to understand that nothing on the Internet is truly private.