Facebook, often criticized for its changing private settings is usually the social network people think of when the topic of privacy is discussed. However, what users tweet, Instagram, check-in and otherwise share elsewhere has an effect on privacy – or lack of. According to the latest data from Pew Internet Project, more women use social networking – 75 vs. 63 percent – and more women on a daily basis — 54 vs. 42 percent. So if more women are using social media, it begs the question: How do they approach privacy in the social media realm?
Sarah Evans, chief evangelist at open social collaboration platform Tracky and social correspondent at Sarah’s Faves thinks about things before she shares them online. “I have very specific things I will and will not share online. I don’t share things I deem too personal,” she says. For example, Evans will rave about an event she attended, but won’t share that she is going to an event alone.
Abby Draper, senior account executive, IMRE, is also careful about how much she shares. “I wouldn’t share passwords, exact address, kind of car I drive, etc. I do get scolded by family and friends, mostly male, about ‘checking in’ to different places like the bank or a bar so I try to be cautious of sharing too much there,” Draper says.
Sites with geolocation such as Foursquare don’t deter women like Draper or Kate Gardiner, media consultant and founder, dstl.it, rather they consider when they check in to various locations choosing to check in after they leave the location. “In context of the whole ‘girls are at risk’ theory, I don’t know that any of my behavior is driven by that concept — my inclination is think, write, share and there’s usually a level of self-censorship ongoing,” Gardiner says.
Social media adds another layer of security to keep in mind when women travel. “I used to worry about sharing where I was going with places like Foursquare, but I created a strategy for when to post travel information,” Evans says. “It goes a little something like this: I will post travel plans if I’m not traveling alone; I will post travel plans if I’m not traveling alone and not traveling with my son; I will post travel plans after I’ve already arrived somewhere; I will post travel plans if it’s for the larger benefit of a client or event; I don’t post travel plans for local travel or personal events.”
Gardiner approaches the issue of travel plans and social media as a way to connect with her network in the area she’s traveling to. “It’s mostly because I have such a diverse network — I’m trying to reach people who I wouldn’t otherwise see,” Gardiner says.
Some users share anything and everything online, and Krista Ledbetter, public relations and social media account executive, Kennedy Communications, finds herself mostly in this category. “I’m very open. Some people appreciate that, others don’t. But that’s the glory of social media -— you can unfollow me,” she says. “The only thing I will not do is complain about my job on social media. Never. That seems like such a small thing compared to the things I do open up about, but that’s my career. My livelihood. There’s no messing with that.”
Gardiner on the other hand seldom shares her opinion. “My opinions are mine, and rarely shared on social because I’ve written so many social media policies and spent so much time scaring other people who work in editorial environments,” Gardiner says.
Finding the balance
Evans, Gardiner, Draper and Ledbetter have all found a balance between sharing enough information to connect with people while maintaining a level of safety. “Don’t share your last name, your address, your place of employment. If you’re going to meet someone, do it in a public place. I do all of these things until I really get to ‘know’ someone. I’ve made dozens of friends through Twitter and blogging. Clearly by now they know all of these things about me. But, as a rule, don’t share anything that would let a stranger pick you out of a crowd,” Ledbetter adds.
Draper says that her network consists mostly of close friends and family who use it to check on her from long distance. “I think the way that I use social media is a bit unique in that it serves mostly as a tool to keep my family, friends, loved ones who are all over the country updated to what I am doing and more importantly, that I am safe and happy,” she says. Because of this atmosphere to her accounts, she uses it as a kind of safeguard. “Make sure that someone knows how frequently you share and if they notice you’re not sharing that often, have them check in with you.”
All four of these women said the solution is to be smart about what you share. “If you’re going to be away for a while, don’t tell the internet. If you’re alone in a hotel room, tweeting or Facebooking from that place in a way that allows someone to find you isn’t wise,” Gardiner says.
Evans takes the “be smart” advice a step further with a few tips. “If you’re going to be traveling somewhere alone, don’t post it. If you’re going to be home alone, don’t post it. If you ever have doubts about something you’re thinking about posting, don’t post it. Update the privacy settings on your social networks. Make sure you’re only sharing with the people you want to share with,” she adds. “If you ever meet someone online male or female and plan a meet up, meet in a public place, let a friend or family member know where you’re going and who you’re meeting.”
Remember that nothing is truly private even with locked down accounts. “I think it’s overkill to say never share where you are, what you’re doing, to be anonymous or to never post pictures of anything,” Ledbetter says. “Imagine anything you post will be available to anyone in the world to read. Don’t share anything you wouldn’t share with all of those millions of strangers.”