Best practices for staying safe on social media

Twitter Privacy Security on iPhone
Twitter Privacy Security on iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

Social media can be an incredibly useful source for information and resources for everyday needs. When the world is looking for answers, it's oftentimes social media that facilitates that. It can also, however, be used against us by nefarious individuals or by groups violating our privacy and security. You should feel safe sharing information about what you're doing at any time, but there are some things you should consider before posting content.

Private or public?

You can always trust iMore. Our team of Apple experts have years of experience testing all kinds of tech and gadgets, so you can be sure our recommendations and criticisms are accurate and helpful. Find out more about how we test.

Twitter for iPhone

Twitter for iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

Most social media networks give you the option to maintain a private or public profile. Generally speaking, anyone can view a public social media profile. A private profile, on the other hand, usually requires some form of permission. Some social media networks, like Facebook, give you individual control over your posts — you can make photos of your dog public and photos of that party you attended private. Ultimately, you need to consider your goals in creating a social media account and let that inform your decision on whether you want to maintain a private or public presence.

  • Do you want to connect with your friends, stay in touch with family, and interact with a known group of people? A private profile probably makes more sense.
  • Are you trying to build an online presence? Interested in — I know, I'm sorry, I'm about to say it and I'm sorry — creating and furthering your personal brand (ugh, I hate myself for saying that)? You're probably going to want to maintain a public profile.

This is another broad statement, but, for the most part, a private account is going to be "safer" than a public account in the sense that you'll be less likely to get on the radar of any ill-willed individuals. If you choose to maintain a public account, then you're going to want to be very aware of what and how you share your data online.

Letting others tag you in photos

Even if you have your account set to private, one of your friends may not. Just because you're at the same party, doing the same embarrassing stuff, doesn't mean you want your reputation tarnished with people who follow you on social media. I mean, what would your coworkers think of seeing you dancing on top of that table with a cardboard box on your head?

Most social media services allow you to protect your privacy by not allowing others to tag you in photos without you first giving express permission. Visit the Privacy and Security settings of your preferred social media apps to see if this feature is available.

Check your location settings

Geotagging on Instagram

Geotagging on Instagram (Image credit: iMore)

One of the first mistakes folks make when they start sharing content online is inadvertently sharing their location. There are multiple ways this can happen: Most social networks let you share your location when you make a new post and what's worse: Many social networks have location sharing enabled by default. Depending on your settings, a post could include very specific information about your location. If you'd rather not share your location, you can typically find an X or a Remove button to nix your location before you send off a post.

Social network locations sharing (Image credit: iMore)

Another, less-obvious way folks end up sharing their location is through the photos they post online. When you snap a photo with your iPhone, certain cameras, or another mobile device, it'll often add location information to the image file. This is a nifty feature if you'd like to see all the photos you took while you were on a trip, but it's a not-so-great feature if your images reveal the location of your home, work, etc.

Location data on iPhone and Mac (Image credit: iMore)

If you want to keep your iPhone or iPad from recording your location when you take photos, just do the following:

  1. Head to the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down and tap Privacy.
  3. Tap Location Services.
  4. Scroll down and tap Camera
  5. Change ALLOW LOCATION ACCESS to Never.

If you want to remove your location from a photo or photos in Photos for Mac, just do the following:

  1. Select a photo or photos whose location you want to remove.
  2. Click Image in the Mac menu bar.
  3. Hover over Location.
  4. Click Hide Location.

Most social media services will also give you the option to remove your location from all posts — both those already posted and those you'll post in the future.

Strong, pseudo-random passwords … YESTERDAY

iPassword on iPhone

iPassword on iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

Say it with me now: "If you're not using strong, pseudo-random passwords for all your accounts, you're interneting wrong." Seriously. The best, easiest thing you can do to improve your safety and security online is to stop using the same or similar passwords on different online accounts. Reason being, if one poorly secured account — say a restaurant's online ordering service — gets hacked and your password gets stolen, suddenly all your accounts are exposed.

On top of having strong, pseudo-random passwords for your online accounts, you should enable two-factor authentication wherever and whenever it's available. Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, requires both a password and some other form of authentication. That second form of authentication is typically a randomly generated code sent to your phone or generated by a password manager. If someone guesses your password, they're still unable to gain access to your account without the two-factor code.

You can check out our recommended password managers here:

Best password manager apps for iPhone and iPad

And you can read more about protecting your photos and personal data here:

How to protect your private photos and personal data from being hacked

Trust your gut

Less about being hacked and more about avoiding unsafe situations, it's always a good idea to trust your gut. Social media is a great way to connect with friends, but it's also an easy way to connect with strangers. Online communication doesn't always mean finding oneself in an unsafe situation, but I can't stress this enough: Your experience is your own and you get to choose how it plays out. If you're uncomfortable, hit the mute or block button with abandon. If you're being harassed, report the account harassing you. If you're feeling uneasy, run the situation by someone you trust.

I'm going to say this again: No one gets to dictate how you choose to handle online interactions except you. You're not required to give the benefit of the doubt if you don't want to; safety is most important.

How do you stay safe on social media?

Do you have any tips and tricks you use to stay safe on social media?

Updated June 2020: Updated for iOS 13.

Mikah Sargent

Mikah Sargent is Senior Editor at Mobile Nations. When he's not bothering his chihuahuas, Mikah spends entirely too much time and money on HomeKit products. You can follow him on Twitter at @mikahsargent if you're so inclined.