Seven Ways to Protect Yourself on Social Media While Still Using Social Media

Social media can be a wonderful communication tool if used wisely.
Social media can be a wonderful communication tool if used wisely. Photo by Esther Vargas via Flickr
Most people enjoy being social online. It's a good way to connect with people you aren't always able to see, keep up with what's going on in the world — nearby and far away — and a place to share your opinions. But there are pitfalls. From internet trolls to identity thieves, the world of social media can, at times, be a treacherous place. It doesn't have to be, however, if you are careful.

In lieu of deleting your profile on Facebook or elsewhere, maybe consider some ways to use social media wisely.

Turn off location services.

Most social media platforms will give you the option of sharing your location, whether it be for a post or a photo. Avoid the temptation to leave that turned on. It is basically a roadmap of your daily activity. Instead, if you want to share where you are/were, tag the location when it comes up. That way, you can show people that great meal you had and give the restaurant some kudos but not share the location of your house when you take (another) picture of your cat.

Talk to your friends offline too.

Far too often, we make the mistake of communicating with people through social media. This is great for acquaintances or people we don't know very well. But, for closer friends, take as many conversations offline as you can. Not only does it protect the integrity of those discussions (text, emails and phone calls are all more secure than messages through Facebook, Twitter or other messaging services), but it reminds you that you don't need an interface to...well, interface.

Make liberal use of the "latergram."

You don't have to post everything right in this second. In fact, it might be smarter to post certain things hours or even days after you think of them or take a photo. The "latergram," which refers to photos posted on Instagram after the moment has passed, is a smart way to both keep your private moments private but also allow you to put the phone down and enjoy the moment.

Lean towards the positive.

Negativity is making the internet an exceedingly difficult place to be. It's as if every asshole on the planet saw the web and said, "That's where I'm going to shine!" But we don't have to add to it. There's nothing wrong with the occasional healthy debate or even a vehement opposing point of view when warranted, but if the majority of your interactions on social media are negative, you are part of the problem.

Comment more than you post.

Speaking of civility, it's also polite to respond to others more than self aggrandizing oneself. So, take the time to comment on the posts of others, particularly when it is something positive. No one likes a post they created with zero likes. Give 'em some love.

Understand that everything you do is being recorded and will never disappear.

It's easy to forget that every word you write, ever website you visit, every thing you buy online, every photo you post, every survey you take is all recorded forever. It is never going away. It will be stored somewhere. So think twice the next time you decide to message some random girl a picture of your privates because you're sure she wants to see that (she doesn't). It's more likely to end up in a file at your next performance review for your job than it is stored in her phone.

Limit your exposure.

It goes without saying that one of the best ways to use social media responsibly is to use it less. It is better for everyone if we put down the phone and enjoy the world IRL as much as possible. Too many posts clutters everyone's timeline. Plus, your friends and family won't freak if you go offline for a few hours and start calling you to make sure you didn't die, which is sweet, but a little annoying.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke