Social Media Privacy: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat

A how-to guide for implementing privacy settings on some of the most popular social media channels. 


Although Facebook collects more information about you than most other social media sites, you can control who sees what you share through your privacy settings.

1. Click the little carrot in the upper right hand corner of your screen, scroll down to "settings".

2. Privacy. Under the "Privacy" tab, you'll find many of the settings that controll who sees your posts, who can contact you, and who can share what you post. I'd suggest setting everything to "private" or "friends only". The last one on the list, "Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?" is important. That setting is what allows your profile, pictures you're tagged in, etc. to show up if someone types your name into google. Set that to "No".


3. Timeline and tagging is where you can control how other people interact with you through their own profiles. The tagging feature allows you to monitor what pictures you're tagged in on your friends' profiles. If you have a friend whose profile isn't as secure as your own, you can't stop them from posting pictures of you, but you can stop them from sharing your name or linking back to your profile in the pictures. 

4. Apps and other data. In light of recent news stories where privata data was shared outside Facebook, I'll touch on other apps. Under the "Apps" sidebar, you can control what apps have access to your Facebook account. I'd highly recommend only allowing integrations with apps from organizations that are well-established and highly trusted. Whenever you take a Facebook quiz, for example, and that app pops up a little box asking if they can access your profile, that means they have access to EVERYTHING, and sometimes, it gives them access to your friends' data as well. It's extremely hard to 100% protect all of your privacy on the internet, which is part of the price you pay for the free service they're providing, but you can do your best to monitor who has your information. Go into this section and delete all the apps you no longer use or that you can't be sure are trustworthy. Consider how much info you share on your profile (location, school, job, etc.) and decide as a family what is OK being public information, and what you should leave blank.


Instagram doesn't collect nearly the amount of personal information that Facebook does, but we should still exercise caution and teach our children to do the same. 

When you log into your Instagram profile, it looks like this (ours is a business profile, so it shows slightly more information. Your address will not be there):

If you set your account to private, that means that people who you haven't approved to follow you see this instead:

Notice, they still see my profile picture, the website I shared, and my little tagline. Besides sharing my blog, I have no identifying information in my profile. Encourage your students not to put the school they attend and/or the year they graduate in their profile. 


To control these settings, click the little gear in the upper right hand of the screen. It will take you to your profile settings.  At the bottom of the screen, you'll see you can choose to have a "private account" – flip that switch so that it's green. That means your account will look like mine in the previous picture to anyone who doesn't follow you, and people who want to follow you will have to request to do so. A few notes about this: If you did not previously have a private account, go through your followers. If your account is not private, anyone can follow you – they don't have to request to do so. They'll stay on your follower list and have access to your account even after you switch to private. Make sure to delete anyone you don't know. 

To edit your profile, click "Edit Profile". You'll be taken to a screen like this:


This is where you can edit your little bio, what website you share, your profile picture, and choose your username. The private info is not shared on your profile. 



When you log into Twitter on your phone (it's easier on your phone) click your little profile picture in the upper left hand corner. It will show a screen like this. First, click "Profile".

When you reach your profile, click "edit profile" in the upper left hand corner, it will take you to a screen that looks like this. Notice, I don't use my personal Twitter account very often. I have nothing filled out. Your Bio will show up on your profile and is accessible to people who both follow you and don't follow you, similar to Instagram. Encourage students not to put identifying info in their Bio. I'd also recommend leaving location, etc. blank as well.


Now, this is where things begin to get interesting. Click back to this screen, then choose "settings and privacy".


You'll see a screen similar to this: 

Click "privacy and safety".  Protect your tweets means people who don't follow you can't see your tweets, and you have to approve your follow requests. Switch this to on. Photo tagging allows others to tag you in photos on their twitter accounts. You can send private messages on Twitter, called Direct Messages (DMs). I recommend not accepting those from anyone. Read receipts is a personal preference. You can link your account with Periscope, a live video streaming app. You can find more info on Periscope and privacy here. Notice personalization and data at the bottom. This is automatically set to "allow all". Click there to see what info the platform has gathered about you. It can be quite interesting. 


Personalization and data is what the app collects to help personalize their ads to you. This is similar to how one minute you're searching for a new toothbush and the next an ad pops up on your profile. They use your behavior on the internet – searches, public interactions, posts you liked or commented on, and build a personality profile. They'll then serve you ads they believe you'd be interested in, helping your user experience but also giving the organizations paying for ads a better ROI. Again, notice that you don't have to opt-in for this, but you do have to opt-out. At the bottom of this screen, there's an option to see your Twitter data. 

See your Twitter data. Notice they track what kinds of devices you have, places you've been, what seems to interest you on Twitter, what interests you on other apps through their organization partners, and they add you to tailored audiences. If you click the "Your Profile" tab you can see the profile they've built on you. Remember, I didn't fill in any info on my profile. It turns out they have my email and phone number based on login data, they determined my age (broadly), recorded languages i intereact with, and they know my gender and general interests. None of this information is public, but it is good to be aware of the profiles being built about you online. 


There's a lot of fear surrounding Snapchat. The user interface isn't easy to understand, stories disappear in 24 hours, you can keep conversations completely secret, and there are a lot of ways where teens can find themselves in trouble on the platform. I get it. However, it can also be a fun way to connect with friends –IF it's used safely and properly. Here's a quick overview.

When you log into the platform, it immediately goes to the camera. In the upper left hand corner will either be a little ghost or a bitmoji if you've made one. Click that to get to your profile.

There's no real personal information that you can share in your profile. You upload a bitmoji or a picture, you can see your stories, trophies, and add friends. Cick the gear in the upper right hand corner to change your privacy settings, among other things.

Take a look at everything, but most of the information you want to focus on is in the "who can..." section. Change everything to "My friends" or "only me". In the "Who can view my story" section, there's the option to make it public, available to all friends, or only available to indivuduals you choose. This means that you could make your story visible to everyone except, say, your ex or your parents. It's very customizable. Be aware of that. Make sure your story is not set to public.

If your profile and location information is set to public, people can find you by clicking the search bar on the "discover" screen.

The seach bar pulls up this screen. Notice is has a map and then locations of recent snaps in my area. If your location is discoverable by your friends, your bitmoji will appear on this map (see image 2). If your stories are public and you tagged your location when you recorded your story, it will show up in one of the locations listed (Allen County Courthouse, for example). All these locations are compilations of individual's snaps taken around the same time in the same location.

Here you can see some examples of compilations. "Fort Wayne Traffic" are people in fort wayne snapping from their cars. There was a "Northrop High School" and a "Canterbury High School" compilation showing snaps from their recent performance nights. The Hotel Fort Wayne compilation had snaps of couples who likely had no idea a complete stranger could watch them play with filters in their hotel room. One of the snaps featured on the "Hotel Fort Wayne" compilation was a mom and her teenage son. She was saying "He's teaching me how to use Stories" ... I can almost guarantee she had no idea her privacy settings weren't correctly enabled. This is why it's so important to familiarize yourself with the platforms, help your students understand the platform's capabilities, and work together to figure out how you can best use the technology for good and fun while being smart and staying safe.

Remember, things are changing all the time in this space. It's likely that features and settings on at least one of these channels will change before the end of the week. While there are apps out there that allow you to monitor your child's online activity, there are just as many apps to help teens keep secrets from their parents. Monitoring and controlling their usage alone isn't going to work 100% of the time. Keep open dialogue with your teen about new features, teach them to understand red flags, the importance of keeping info private, and to double check privacy settings on their own (because they'll know the new features on social media before you will). Encourage them to find healthy ways to interact with each other and the world in the digital space, and work on building a partnership with your teen when it comes to tech. Common Sense Media has some good updates about platforms, tech agrements to walkthrough with teens, and other info.


For more ideas on helping your teens be good stewards of social media check out some of these links:

WRITTEN BY Brittany King