Common Social Media Privacy Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

By: Cat Saunders

These days, it is commonplace for employers to screen prospective hires by looking into what they post online. For this reason, I personally choose not to post anything that I would be embarrassed to show my boss. Using an alternate name that cannot be traced back to you by a search engine is another option to avoid tarnishing your online reputation. However, lots of students tell me that they get around having to worry about what they post by utilizing privacy controls. This is a fair point, but relying on ever changing privacy control functions can be treacherous. Let me share with you some common misconceptions about privacy settings that you should be aware of, so that you can avoid these pitfalls.


On Twitter, it is important to know that if your profile is public, then all your posts are public. This includes posts that are replies to other users. Even if you are replying to a user with a private account, your replies to them can be viewed by anyone if your account is public. Avoid this pitfall by remembering that for public Twitter accounts, anyone can see any post that you ever make . . . ever.


It is worth noting that anything public on Google+ is included in search results, as well as your Google profile. Keep this in mind when deciding whether you want something you share with your circles to be public. Also remember that your friends can re-share your posts, and that their privacy settings may not be your own, but your name will still be attached. Even people who don’t use Google+ but use other Google services (such as Gmail or Google search), your public posts can be part of other service. Here is an example of a side bar that would accompany an email from a Google+ user:


Facebook is more difficult to nail down, because their site is constantly changing and often without warning. Due to its popularity, Facebook is frequently searched by employers. This makes it especially important to understand Facebook’s privacy settings. If you want your profile to remain locked down, I suggest selecting “Friends except Acquaintances” to ensure that only your friends see what you post. To avoid friends tagging you when you would rather not be tagged, turn on the “Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline” feature. Also consider making it so that only you can see posts you’ve been tagged on in your timeline if your friends might include you in a comprising status update. You can also decide to make all the past posts that you once intended to be public or for friends of friends only available to friends. The important thing is to make sure that you are aware of whether the content you post is public, for friends except acquaintances, friends, or only for you and ensure that you meant for it to be that way. I also recommend doing a sweep of your Activity Log on your profile page to check that all of your activity appropriate and hide the posts that aren’t. Because Facebook changes frequently, stay up to date on how their privacy settings function.

Being conscious of what you post and being fully aware of how privacy settings function will let you confidently use these sites in the way that you intended. While you’re at it, make sure that your social media profiles stay accurate and up-to-date. This advice should allow you to both maintain your professionalism online and decide when (and how) to let your hair down too.

Cat Saunders is a UCSB alum who works as a Vocational Counselor in the Santa Barbara area. She can be found at