Since its inception, social media has immensely improved the world’s ability to stay connected. Before, the only way you knew what someone was up to was by calling or texting them. Now, it’s as simple as opening Twitter or checking Instagram. Social media has given us the ability to stay connected to the world 24/7.
And while I wouldn’t trade this intrinsic connection to the world for anything, there are plenty of problems surrounding social media that I feel need to be talked about a bit more often. We need to talk more about the privacy breaches of Facebook. We need to talk about the shady dealings of social media in general.
And that’s exactly what I’m writing about. I want to explore the most recent controversies surrounding social media sites and tell you how to protect yourself when using social media. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.
Sites Tarnishing the Reputation of Social Media
How many of you reading right now use Facebook? Have a Facebook? Probably a lot of you because, believe it or not, Facebook used to be the social media site. A few years ago, we all trusted Facebook. “What could go wrong?”, we asked ourselves.
Unfortunately for us, a lot could go wrong. And if you’ve been keeping up with the news for the past few years, I’m sure you know what I’m alluding to: Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica exploited Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users in order to manipulate elections all over the world.
Cambridge Analytica showed the world Facebook couldn’t be trusted with our information. However, while many expected Facebook to suffer financially due to the situation, the site reported a huge increase in revenue last year, but instead, they reported a huge increase in revenue—a 26% increase.
Now, the FTC did fine Facebook for their scandals, with Facebook having set aside 3 billion last year for fines. However, this only goes for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, not the other scandals the site has been guilty of for years.
Facebook has also come under attack throughout the years for tracking users’ activity outside of Facebook. You know, I’m starting to get the hunch Facebook isn’t as trustworthy as they want us to think. According to Mark Zuckerberg’s emails, released last year, it seems he knows that too.
I’m not biased, however, so let’s move onto another social media site that betrayed user trust: Instagram. Earlier in 2019, a not-so-good year for privacy policies, Business Insider released an investigation that proved Instagram had been allowing HYP3R, a marketing agency, to collect information from different users. Heavy claims, and all of them were true.
2019 showed us one thing, and it’s that social media sites can’t be trusted with our information. If we give them an inch, they’ll go a mile. However, this doesn’t mean you’re totally defenseless, as there are precautions you can take to protect yourself and your information.
Take a Gander at the Privacy Settings
Social media sites are required to allow users to have some control over their privacy settings. These privacy settings can include but are not limited to:
1) The social media site’s ability to track your activity,
2) The ability to privatize your account, only allowing trusted followers to view your content,
3) And the ability to turn off location services.
These may sound like much but trust me when I say that they can be the difference between total privacy and the social media site selling your data for pocket change. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather my data not be sold to the highest bidder.
By looking through your privacy settings, you can weaken the site’s grip on your data. It may not be much, but any advantage is worth a few seconds of your time.
Encrypt Your Traffic With a VPN
Social media sites breach user privacy because there tends to be financial gain when doing so. A big part of this financial gain comes in the form of tracking and logging your data and site activity. Once these sites log your traffic, they’ll be making the big bucks while you’re none the wiser. It’s happened to all of us.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not the biggest fan of having my data logged and sold. Fortunately, a virtual private network (VPN) prevents just that from happening. For only a few dollars a month, you can ensure your privacy online on social media.
With a VPN enabled, all of your ingoing and outgoing internet traffic is encrypted, meaning no one—not the site, your ISP, or your government—will be able to track and log your data. A VPN allows you to be the Internet equivalent of a ghost.
Don’t Fill Out Your Entire Profile
You could avoid social media altogether, but the ability to do so is both unviable and difficult. Instead, if you really want to protect your privacy, I recommend avoiding filling out your entire profile. Wait, what?
When you create a social media account, you’ll be asked for things like your name, your city/state, and other facets of your personal information. Most of this information isn’t required to create your profile, so I highly recommend not giving it out.
The more information you voluntarily give to the site, the more data they have on you. Plus, you don’t know who’s viewing your profile. Many people have been stalked online, so try not to give anyone any details about your personal life.
Social media has connected the world in ways people didn’t think was possible 20 years ago. However, the interconnection of the world comes at a cost—a cost of your privacy. The worst part? The loss of privacy is rarely consensual.
Fortunately, there are a few ways you can protect yourself from Facebook, Instagram, and various other social media sites. I don’t recommend abstaining from social media, but I do recommend combing through the various ways you can protect your privacy.