Online Personas and What Not to Share
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Can someone be two people at once? In today’s world, the answer is yes. In fact, one could argue someone can be multiple people at once. How? Due to the growing digital landscape, people are able to create online personas that may or may not reflect their actual selves.
Multiple things define who we are in the physical world – from our personalities to our demographics. These characteristics describe us in a relatively consistent way. This isn’t always the case with our online personas. Within reason, we can be whoever we want online. The things we post and share can paint a picture that is either very similar or very different from our everyday realities. These can even vary from platform to platform. For example, the way you present yourself on Instagram may differ from the way you present yourself on LinkedIn. On Instagram, you’re a party-going, coffee-drinking traveler. On LinkedIn, you’re strictly business, always serious, and looking for opportunities to grow your network and gain professional power. In reality, each of these personas reflect only a piece of who you are or who you want to be. What you choose to share and how you choose to portray yourself online is, of course, up to you. However, there are some aspects of sharing that should always be handled with sensitivity for the sake of privacy.
To Share or Not to Share
In discussing ways to minimize your digital footprint, we suggested adjusting the privacy settings of your social network accounts so that you only share information with people you know – friends, family, colleagues. While this is a step in the right direction, it’s not all that effective on its own. Some platforms only allow public accounts, like Twitter and LinkedIn. In these cases, you may be able to limit how people interact with your account, but the information you post is still fair game. This is why it is also important to consider the information you are sharing within your posts. There’s no guidebook to what is and isn’t okay to share on social networks. It varies based on personal preferences. However, there is a general consensus about a few things you should always avoid sharing to protect your privacy and the privacy of those close to you.
1. Full birthdate
This is a tough one. We all love getting well wishes from our friends and followers on our birthday, but our birthdate is also an important piece of information related to our identity and can be used maliciously by scammers.
2. Home address
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this happens. Remember that posts can be seen by others, even if you’re just talking with one person specifically. Move the conversation to personal messages as opposed to comments and feeds.
3. Current location
Sharing your current location seems innocent enough. Unfortunately, if seen by the wrong person, potential thieves are now aware that you’re not at home.
4. Vacation plans
Similar to sharing your current location, publicizing the details of your vacation plans can also be risky. Not only will evildoers know you aren’t home, but they’ll also have time to plan ahead and know when you’re coming back. Consider waiting until after your vacation to share the fun details and photos from your trip.
5. Information about your kids
Kids are cute and parents are proud. We want to put them everywhere – sharing their photos, accomplishments, etc. But, be cautious about how detailed this gets. Even if your account is private, you never know who is looking at this information. Also consider how the photos and details you share are shaping the online identity that your children will eventually grow into and have as their own.
6. Photos with friends and family
Everyone’s privacy preferences are different. So, while a picture may be great, it’s possible someone in it would prefer it wasn’t shared publicly. Make sure your friends and family are okay with the things you share of and about them.
7. Things you wouldn’t want your employer to see
Employers are known for referencing employees’ job candidates’ social media accounts and other available information online. Before you post something, ask yourself, would I mind if my employer saw this or would my employer mind that I’m sharing it?
8. Information related to security questions
Security questions aren’t the greatest form of protection. Many of them require answers that are often common knowledge or easy to look up. Things like maiden or middle names, past schools, past car make and models, are all pretty easy to find with a little digging online. If you know you use these types of questions, avoid sharing this information publicly.
Social connection is just one of many reasons why a user may sacrifice their privacy, even if they genuinely care about it. These inconsistencies, or misalignments between privacy concerns and actual behavior, are known as privacy paradoxes. Next week we’ll discuss more of these paradoxes and why they occur.
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