When are you sharing too much on social media?

By William Pardi

November 2, 2020

Staying connected is important. In our current day and age, the internet gives us the opportunity to be more connected than ever, allowing us to communicate both actively and passively with friends and family around the globe in real time. Using social media like Facebook or Twitter, you can post updates on your life so that even without calling or texting people, they can still be informed on how you’re doing. This is a very powerful tool with a large amount of benefits, but are there risks? As with anything, the answer is yes. These risks can range from minor inconvenience such as upsetting a relative or friend, to greater consequences such as not getting an interview for that dream job, having your house burgled, or potentially even putting your own life at risk. There is a fine line between healthy behavior on the internet and sharing too much.

There has been a fear of some evil, Orwellian entity, such as a corrupt government, building portfolios on people, documenting their lives and analyzing them until they know you better than you know yourself, and then using this information to manipulate you into compliance. While the legitimacy of these fears is somewhat questionable, before we point fingers at powerful organizations, maybe we need to make sure we aren’t building these portfolios ourselves.

Rarely do we question the information we upload to Facebook or Twitter. We may want our friends to know what our long term life goals are, or that we hate our bosses, or that we support some fringe political group. They’re our friends and we trust them. What’s the big deal? The issue is that this information is often public, and almost anyone can view it. If someone wanted to know about you, they could simply take a peek at your social media. It isn’t illegal and often there is very little stopping strangers from doing so. As an article from the Daily Mail states, half of British facebook users accept friend requests from strangers, and 13 million US users have never even looked at their privacy settings.

Before I continue, I would like to state that I don’t intend on being dramatic for the sake of garnering your attention, as the risk of anything particularly serious happening is very low and generally the most harm that could happen would be minor inconveniences. Here’s an example, say you live on the West coast and your worrisome, overprotective mother lives on the East coast. You get an offer from a friend to go flying for the day in his small Cessna. He’s been flying for over ten years, the plane has had a maintenance overhaul last month, and your friend cites expert meteorologists predicting that the day you’re planning on going is to have perfect weather for flying. You go and it’s absolutely fantastic, you take videos and pictures while you’re in the air, and after you safely land and arrive home later that day, you post some of the videos you took. Your friends are amazed, you get showered with likes, and then you get a phone call. It’s your mother, and she’s livid. She berates you for unnecessarily endangering yourself, citing a promise you made to her when you were eleven that you’d never go flying. She’d bring up news stories about air accidents and complain of having heart palpitations thanks to you.

This wasn’t what you intended to happen. You knew you could never tell her, and besides, the content you posted wasn’t intended for her. Despite the fact this is a massive overreaction on her part, it still illustrates the point. Someone with a vested interest in you can discover information not intended for them on your social media.

Let’s take it a step further. Let’s say you enjoy partying, you have a lot of friends who like to party, and you all have social media. It seems like completely normal behavior to post videos and excerpts from your various escapades to your Facebook or Twitter account so that you can share the stories and make funny, but questionable comments with your clique. In tandem with this however, you want to get out of your boring, dead-end job and move into something that could become a career. You build and refine your resume, you reach out to recruiters, but time and time again you’re met with silence. You often meet all the requirements and even desired attributes, but still, nothing. What’s going on?

In the recruiters attempts to vet prospective employees, while they are initially enthralled by you reaching out and your qualifications, they shuffle their feet when they look at your social media accounts. It may seem overly judgmental, but a high-demand, high-compensation job requires a certain level of maturity, and your history of rambunctious partying and immature comments tarnishes your reputation, causing hiring managers and recruiters to pass you up in favor of less qualified candidates who instead maybe make Facebook posts about charity work they do. This is a very serious issue, as exemplified in this CareerBuilder survey which found that up to 70% of recruiters screen candidates’ social media during hiring.

Up to 70% of recruiters screen  candidates’ social media during hiring.

Worse examples yet could be people who actively wish you harm. Imagine a stalker seeing a picture you posted of a fancy dinner you made all within your own kitchen, and uses the pictures inherent geotagging to find your address, something which Chris Hadnagy of Social Engineer states in this article is a very real threat and is often ignored. Or a burglar reads a post saying that you’re going on vacation and won’t be home for over two weeks, signifying that your house, and anything valuable you left inside, is now unguarded and unwatched, rendering it a vulnerable target. This information may seem innocent, and in many ways it is, but the point still stands. Social media is often designed to reach as many people as possible, whether you intend for it or not.

There is often no right or wrong to what you post on social media in regards to yourself. Your personal information is yours to disclose at your discretion, whenever you feel it is right to do so. These examples simply demonstrate the boundaries that you could cross from healthy internet behavior and potentially causing yourself unnecessary grief.

Of course, there are certain times in which your social media activity can hurt others. For example, if you were at a friends birthday party, and while your own behavior was acceptable, you post a video or picture of your friend doing something inappropriate. One of his coworkers sees this and ends up reporting this to their boss, and your friend gets fired. This is somewhat far-fetched, but not impossible. There may even be more dangerous repercussions, as is the case of posting information on minors that may put them at risk, such as revealing you’ll be leaving them unattended at a public swimming pool.

Disregarding even malicious people actively seeking out vulnerable victims, there are also countless examples of social media ‘bots’ that, for various reasons,  are used to spread disinformation. While sometimes looking legitimate, these bots may screen content posted by authentic users, share fake news articles that support their apparent cause, and then have said human users repost this information, spreading the fire. This is where SSO login solutions, such as humanID, come into play, as they are designed to ensure every account created is linked back to a legitimate user.

Hopefully by now you’re starting to see what can happen when information is carelessly shared on social media. But what are some healthy practices? While there are countless guides that can demonstrate such behavior, we’re not talking about laws or hard and set rules. We’re talking about common sense. There are multiple different guidelines one can follow, such as not posting anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother or your children to read, or not posting anything you wouldn’t want your boss to read, or even more extreme, not posting anything you wouldn’t want a criminal to read. While all of these can be somewhat helpful, the reality of the situation is to not post anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see.

Social media is a form of mass communication. As stated before its intent is to reach the eyes and ears of as many people as possible. With that in mind, when posting we cannot rely on our inherent anonymity as our only defense, and instead be cautious and thoughtful with everything we post. There is sometimes no turning back after something is posted, and what we post can have far reaching consequences.