Social Media: You Share More Than You Know
It took me about five years to finally use my real last name on Facebook, not just my real first name. I figured I had reached out to most of the people who knew me so why bother? Then I was used to using it and wanted to find old classmates so I broke down and used my real name. I put the closest BIG city for where I live. My real birthday and my telephone number aren’t attached to my profile, neither is my primary email. My immediate family includes eldest, youngest, and husband. I never use their names, just those descriptions. My graduation years are all hidden from anyone I don’t know well – I actually put those I don’t know in a group “acquaintances” that can’t see that data. I’m not one to over-share on social media. I am very aware of the need for privacy and I take it seriously.
And yet, I know a lot can be found out from my social media activities. Even those who are extremely careful (as I try to be) leave more out there than they realize. Kids are, naturally, more vulnerable to this because of how much time they spend online.
What You Like
I like to support local businesses and activities, as lots of us do. I read our local small-town paper and comment/share articles, as lots of us do. I get tagged in school activities and sometimes even share an activity the kids were in. Most of us do.
A few years ago, I became a bit alarmed by how belligerent a friend of a friend had become and wanted to be sure he didn’t live near me. His profile doesn’t show where he lives or any personal data but he did like and share an article from a small NYC newspaper. I looked some more at his groups, pages, etc. and found he had liked a congressman who represented that area. Now I knew where he lived with a reasonable degree of confidence, although not 100% for sure.
If anyone can see my Facebook Groups, they can find out where I have been/am involved in Scouts, places I have worked and lived, my college graduating class (and friends), and activities I enjoy. FB can literally see the street I live on because there is a neighborhood group!
About Those Photos
When I scoured my photos to see what revealing details might be there, I found two photos that included license plates for two of our cars, one from the accident where it was totaled. There were some pictures showing the kids elementary school and a bunch from different trips and vacations. Personally, I’m not deleting most of the ones from vacations because they are mostly scenic snaps and having pictures from a lot of places makes it harder to pinpoint where I really live and visit often.
Your clothing can give away a lot about you as well. School t-shirts, Scout uniforms with troop numbers, team jerseys – all of these can provide a treasure trove of information for cyber-stalkers, especially when details are cross-referenced.
FB notices the location tags on photos and has a list of places you have visited. This can have amusing results. I periodically use some of the stunning photos from USGS.gov. As a result, FB thinks I have visited Antarctica!
When I downloaded my FB data, it listed all the “events” I had ever indicated an interest in. I don’t think those are visible to other users but they certainly provide a good idea of where I live. Once again, looking at your “likes” provides a lot of information. If you “liked” a school team, small newspaper, coffee shop, and meteorologist all from the same area, odds are extremely strong that you live there. If you did the same thing for a different area, one is probably your hometown and scouring your friends will probably reveal which one is high school/college (shared educational history) and which is current.
That is simply the reality: if we are online and engage in social media, even the most careful among us will leave clues about who we are and where we live. The true goal shouldn’t be not to have any information about us findable. It should be to keep critical data off our social profiles and to protect the privacy of our children, especially while they are young. They really don’t need to hit young adulthood and apply for a credit card, only to find that their credit rating is already trashed because someone found their birthday and tons of other critical information from old social media posts by friends and family. You also don’t need to be giving your real birthday to every website that asks for it. Very few need it. You bank, yes, they do need it. But a burger joint that gives out a free goodie during your birthday month? No, they don’t.
So, be smart but don’t be paranoid. And remember: you can go back and delete, trash, unlike, and unsubscribe so that less of your personal data is out there.