This is another one of the questions I get frequently as a blogger. (Here’s my post on how I edit photos and how I make collages for my blog.) As a disclaimer for this post, there are a million different ways to keep yourself safe with social media and everyone is different and has unique circumstances. This is what has worked for me and I think it’s valuable to share so you can tailor your own safety practices to you and your situation!
Before I share how I stay safe with social media, I’m going to share a quick story. I’ve had some pretty uncomfortable encounters over the years with social media (stalked by people, personal information being shared without my permission, creepy guys showing up at events, you name it). The creepiest thing that has ever happened though happened in an airport. I was flying from my home in Tampa to South Carolina for our winter training trip for crew. I had on a Georgetown sweatshirt and my Cox Box was my carryon for the flight. (Cox boxes can look, um, scary if you don’t know what they are. There’s a timer, a toggle, a small metal device. I used to carry a print out explaining what it was from the website because I’d ALWAYS get stopped going through airport security._
This time was no exception and there is a little bit of a scene while airport security starts investigating this little contraption. Everyone in line starts asking what it is and I explain why I have it… that is, I’m a coxswain. An older man heard this, saw my Georgetown sweatshirt, and found the roster on Georgetown’s website. He saw my photo (easy to find the girl on an all-men team) and then got my name and found me on Facebook. Let’s just say, the next time I signed into Facebook I had some “interesting” messages in my inbox from him!
This is all to say… the internet can be scary. (Amazing? Absolutely. Scary too? Yes.) My creepiest internet encounter had nothing to do my blog or social media. It was from two pieces of information: my Georgetown sweatshirt and knowing I was on the crew team. I think it’s important to just keep in mind how much information is out there about us, whether or not we personally shared it. Keeping that in mind, at the very least, can help you keep your wits about you.
1. Location + Timing
The “real time” element of blogging wasn’t exactly there when I started. If you were going to post about it, the quickest you could get something up would be the time it took you to get home, download the photos to your computer, edit, write, and upload to your blog.
Now, you can snap and post within seconds. And we do! Just when you think Instagram is as “insta” as it gets, there’s Periscope with a live feed. LIVE. No delay in upload time at all. Same with Snapchat. I honestly think that no matter how big or small your blog is, or really even if you have a blog or not, you shouldn’t post things in real time. With one click, you basically let people know where you are (or aren’t… like your house) at that exact moment.
I started posting later with Instagram since it’s very location based. At the very least, I’ll post something as I’m leaving but generally speaking I’ll wait an hour or two. If you take a photo with your phone and have your location services tracking where the photos are taken (it’s in the settings), the photo will keep that location and you can geo-tag even if you’re 100 miles away.
When Instagram first came out, I felt like it was a taboo to post an Instagram later. Now it’s almost accepted that Instagrams don’t happen in real time and you can post later that day, that week, or whenever you feel like posting it I guess.
But with Snapchat?! How do you delay your timing for that? So. Simple. Turn your phone on airplane mode before taking a Snapchat, add your filters, and then send the snap. It will fail because you’re not connected to data/wireless. You can turn your phone back off airplane mode and “store” it as a failed Snapchat. When you’ve left the location you can simply go back and “retry” the posting and it will go through.
2. Assume nothing is private or anonymous
I think the trend of anonymous accounts is done, but I still get questions asking my opinion on whether it’s safer to keep an account anonymous or not. Here’s the thing, I think there’s no such thing as anonymous. Not anymore anyway. Someone will find out eventually and it’s just not worth it.
There’s also a major drawback of anonymity. People do and say things when they think their identity is protected that they wouldn’t do or say if they were open about who they were. And when people find out who you are eventually (because they will), it reflects ten times worse on you.
I know there’s a record of everything I’ve said or done and it definitely makes me think twice about everything I post. There are handfuls of things I’ve regretted, but deleting it is a lost cause. Someone has a screenshot, someone has already forwarded it. I have certainly learned that it’s best to just not post.
And your private account? Assume it’s not private. As a crazy (but actually not crazy because it’s happened) scenario… You’re applying for an internship and think your social is on lockdown. You’ve changed your name on Facebook, you’ve made everything private. Except the person reviewing your application has a younger sister who goes to your college and she happens to follow your (“private”) account on Instagram. Now the sister has an in and can see the photos you thought were private. This can happen with parents of your friends seeing what you’re doing, people you work with, etc.
3. Friends and family
Something I didn’t consider when I started blogging would be the fact that I was creating a digital trail for my friends and family, without realizing it. Readers recognize my mom– it tends to happen a lot in the grocery store! Someone has come up to my dad in the airport asking if he was my dad. My sister went to a college where a lot of students read my blog.
There was a point where people would ask me to post photos of them on my blog, but as it grew, the requests shifted to, “Can you not post?” (This also is a result of friends having jobs and understanding/thinking of the consequences a bit more– we’re not carefree college sophomores anymore.)
It’s really important to realize how important everyone’s safety and privacy is on your social media, not just yours. Ask your friends and family if it’s okay to post. When in doubt, don’t.
4. Don’t do or say anything you don’t want on the front page of the NY Times
It’s. Just. Not. Worth. It. I think this used to be a scare tactic, but it’s actually not that far off from reality. I know someone who posted something on Facebook that was in poor taste and it “went viral.” Lost job, media camped outside of her house. Everything. I don’t think it made the front page, but it was mentioned on all kinds of news outlets.
The easiest way to avoid this is to think, “Why am I posting this?”
5. Online turns offline
Eventually, online interactions can crossover offline. I always give someone the benefit of the doubt for being genuinely good. It’s the only way to stay sane! But I do keep in mind that there are people out there with bad intentions. Especially when I’m meeting people in person (whether it’s a reader for coffee or hosting an event), I have a plan. I always meet in the same few coffeeshops where the employees know me and there’s always good foot traffic and bustling energy.
For events, I always have “backup.” I’m not going to be a diva and bring security guards, but there’s always someone there just looking out from behind the scenes keeping an eye on everything. The absolute best interactions with my readers happen at events, but unfortunately so do some of the scariest. I am literally saying, “I will be at THIS location for THESE hours.” For a stalker or a creep or someone with a chip on their shoulder, it can be too tempting not to go. And I have to say, I’m always thankful and relieved when my go-to person can come out and sternly-but-politely let someone know it’s time for them to leave.
Well, this ended up being a lot longer and more detailed than I had originally planned but I think it’s important– whether you’re a blogger or not. For better or for worse, the internet is here to stay and it’s relevant and necessary to have a good understanding of the implications for what you do online.
You shouldn’t let the negative aspects of the internet deter you from exploring and using it, just keep your safety in mind. I truly have met some of my very best friends through social media and blogging. I’ve also turned it into my career! I love it, but put my safety and privacy above all!