Privacy on social media: advance with caution


What’s so scary about social media?

Disclaimer: I’m from the predigital age, so a willing spirit and general acceptance of many aspects of our wired world don’t come easily. I don’t trust the technology, don’t always believe what online tools and content are telling me and remain convinced that it will fail me when I need it most.

My greatest concerns centre around privacy and personal security — not just for myself but for the younger generations of social media users who don’t have my wary skepticism.

Consider this sobering statement published by the Houston Chronicle, from a blog post about privacy issues  that targets small business operators: “The information you put online stays online — often, even after you have removed it.” No room for human error there!!

But this is the world we live in, and I know I need to come to terms with it. Diving in and getting educated seems the best way to proceed.

Privacy concerns and expectations

Social media use opens the door to potential abuse of privacy (and sometimes personal security) in three main areas: identity, reputation, health and well-being.


Examples of identity theft abound, with the ways it can happen growing exponentially every day. The RCMP has noted that much of the information needed to electronically steal personal identity is posted by the individual who is being robbed. Beware the “fun” quiz! It means you’re providing on insecure social networking pages details about your full name, date of birth, address, even the location of childhood homes and your pets’ names.


As Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy warns: “Once information or a status is posted, it is no longer in our control… Information can be transmitted on the Internet in a variety of forms, potentially for a very long time.” The website content explains how deleting a personal post on Facebook or taking down an album of digital images doesn’t mean that content is gone from public view. Many websites keep a record of what has been posted on their sites, and outdated content may reappear through web searches and other means well after the user has attempted to delete it. This is especially true if others who saw the posting copied and stored it, and then decide to recirculate it later.

Imagine the impact this has when a rant you wrote in your younger years – or worse, a drunken party photo – emerges later, when the potential employer who you’d really like to impress does an online search before inviting you for a job interview!

Health and well-being

If your home is your castle, then home security surely contributes to your mental health and overall sense of well-being. How sad is it that a website sprang up a few years ago to educate people about how vulnerable their homes are to theft when they post their location on social media? Fittingly, the website is called Pretty much everything you do on social media leaves a trail of some sort, and can inform criminal types about the many ways they can take advantage.

On a more serious note, there’s cyberbullying. The tragic stories of vulnerable teens who took their own lives after experiencing relentless cyberbullying point to the potential negative consequences of unregulated social media use. The deaths of Amanda Todd (2012), of Port Coquitlam, BC, Rehtaeh Parsons (2013) of Dartmouth, NS, and in 2016 the suicide deaths of five Woodstock, Ont., young people were widely reported on all media platforms. Some people blame social media for this alarming trend.

Of course, adults can be bulschwartz-monica-lewinsky-and-shame1-1200lied or shamed too, with similar blows to their mental health as a result. See Monica Lewinsky’s famous TED talk about her experiences with former US President Bill Clinton for more on that…
Photo: From TED Talk visual, reprinted in The New Yorker

Protect yourself

So as I see it, there’s plenty to be worried about when you venture into online social networking and social media use. The bottom line seems to be ‘protect yourself.’ Get informed about the tools, the ways they can be used and misused, take the time to ensure you’ve done everything you can to protect your own privacy and limit the amount of information you’re sharing.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has some tips and resources, as do provincial counterparts. Be prepared to follow up and report any activity you think is inappropriate or suspicious.

And wide public discussion, information-sharing and advocacy seem to be part of the solution — ironically, especially effective when done via social media!

Thoughts, anyone?




4 thoughts on “Privacy on social media: advance with caution

  1. I would have to completely agree that one of the biggest concerns surrounding social media is privacy. It’s a scary thought that everything you post has the potential to stay forever in the ‘air’ or the potential for anyone to access it. However, I think the biggest concern of all is that so many people aren’t aware of the problems that could occur. As someone who has grown up (since teen years) with social media, it really isn’t something that I think of that often when posting something.

    Just recently I read an article that talked about a travel blogger who found out she had someone copying every.single. post she’s ever done. Traveling around the World, to the same hotels, wearing the same outfits and taking the exact same pictures. It’s crazy that someone would go to those lengths or even have the ability to do that. Those who make a living through blogging (travel or otherwise), open themselves up to this possibility, especially because in order to make a living from it, you need to have an open profile.

    I think that the warnings of social media need to be taught in schools and younger people need to be aware of all the possible issues from the beginning. Speaking to a teacher a couple days ago I was shocked to learn that “computers” is being taught in kindergarten! If they are learning how to log on that young then they should certainly also be learning about the risks from early on as well (maybe they are – this I’m not positive about!). Privacy and risks of social media should be just as important of a class as computers.


    • I think the schools are taking this seriously. My children and I had to read and sign a contract together discussing proper internet use and what to do if they came upon a site that confused them. It addressed bullying and password safety. This contract was returned to the school. My son is only in SK and his use is limited and most of what I read to him in the contract he had zero idea what it. I thought a lot about that afterwards and I think the positive thing is that these concepts are being introduced at a young age.

  2. I agree that children need to be learning about online privacy and security from a young age. The good news is that I think that’s happening more and more frequently, in many areas. And it extends beyond the classroom; for example, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) has a good online presence and lots of guidance for families to help them stay safe.

  3. Thanks, MSM. I take these warnings seriously – even/especially the note about not filling in ‘fun’ surveys. Even though I’ve operated with the philosophy that I will only say ‘nice’ things, I know that – no matter how careful I am – there are plenty of people who will use my words and pictures against me. Like you, I hope that online discussions will shift the “me” social MEdia climate to social “WEdia” where online bullying and cybercrime are exposed and killed off for the good of the herd.

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