Photo: Akheel Ahamed/Shutterstock

How to: Live Life When Everyone Is a Stalker

by Andy Hayes May 10, 2010
Matador Network’s resident social media expert Andy Hayes discusses online privacy and how we can protect ourselves from unwanted attention.

You might assume that as Matador’s social media ninja, whenever the topic of social networking comes up, my view is all puppies and rainbows.
Most pundits tout all of the benefits of social media, but I do think that as this new media platform evolves and slowly moves mainstream (remember when your grandparents finally got email?), there will be good and bad. Consider:

If you’re off ill from work but busy tending to your virtual garden on Facebook, you could get fired.

You could be sued for complaining about your landlord on Twitter.

Location Based Social Media: It hasn’t happened yet, but isn’t it convenient for your stalkers that you can now be tracked down to exact GPS coordinates?

In case you were wondering, there is an entire website dedicated to robbing people while they aren’t at home. Useful option in the event you’re a thrill seeker or a travel writer without a day job.

How to Stop Freaking Out

So this whole situation started just a few years ago, when Facebook appealed mainly to the college and university crowd. Students posted their drunk party photos on Facebook. Meanwhile, interviewers ran internet searches on potential candidates online only learn more about their underwear brand and which flavor Absolut they preferred.

Now, all your information lies only as far away as the nearest keyboard. Try typing your name into Google and see what you get. Then add to that, the pressure to join and share on any of the many varied social networking platforms. It is difficult to know what you should share and what should be kept private.

Perhaps your late night adventures are an obvious opt-out, but what about everything else?

Guidelines To Navigate Your Social Media Privacy
    • If you’re in a precarious situation, social media is not for you. This includes people in the witness protection program (they still have that, right?), have a stalker, a violent or abusive relationship, or have a restraining order out on anyone, then broadcasting updates on social media really is just asking for trouble. Stick to email for now. Is it really worth the risk?
  • The so-called protected status updates aren’t as protected as you think they are. If you think your protected Twitter account is private, allow me to follow you, and I’ll retweet your latest update for everyone to see. I’ve even done this by accident. It’s easy to do. Your private LinkedIn profile is viewable to me if I join one of the groups you are in. And ven if I’m not your Facebook friend, I can still see your thumbnail photo and a sampling of people who are your friends.The Internet works because it is open and it is social. It’s like trying to keep a secret in a room full of people talking – ultimate privacy just isn’t going to happen.
  • Decide what’s private and draw the line. You need to know what is private and what isn’t; make yourself a personal policy and stick to it. Here are some examples of my personal policy:
  • I typically don’t check in on Foursquare until I’m leaving, if I don’t want anyone to join me. If I don’t want people to know I’ve been there, I don’t check in at all.
  • I often talk about my travels, but I never Tweet or update my Facebook status with specific flight name or number until after I have landed on the other side. If someone needs to know, they’ll get an email or Direct Message.
  • TwitPics and photos of my family are off limits. My mother is adorable, but she prefers to stay on the sidelines, and I respect that. (Hi mom!)
  • I regularly review the privacy settings on my social networking accounts. Facebook privacy, in particular, always seems to be adding additional “features” that you have to opt out of. Frustrating, to say the least.

What’s the bottom line?
The decision on what to share on social media is yours and yours alone. Chances are you will not get stalked, fired, or otherwise be exposed by social media, but isn’t it worth taking five minutes to decide and make a personal policy on what’s worth sharing with the world and what is best kept to yourself?


How do you protect your privacy when using social media? Are our lives becoming too transparent? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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