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How Do You Keep Using Facebook but Minimize Your Risk?

Now that the major Facebook fail has come to light and we’re realizing just how vulnerable our personal data can be when using social media, many of us are trying to figure out how to limit our exposure without going so far as to #deletefacebook. After all, it has—for better or worse—become a de facto way of staying in touch, with friends, with community events and with people of like-minded interests.

If you’re looking for ways to limit exposure without deleting your Facebook account altogether, you can. Below are suggestions based on my own experience in taking these steps to protect myself. It takes a little legwork, as you’ll see, but the peace of mind is worth it.

First, change how you use Facebook
According to Facebook, I’ve been a user since 2007. Way back then, I didn’t know enough to be concerned about privacy. I freely shared information both in my profile and through my posts, and accepted friend requests willy nilly. Over time, I did start to think about these issues. I unfriended hundreds of people who weren’t really friends, I shared less, and I removed some of the personal information I had previously included in my profile.

In light of the recent news about Cambridge Analytica, however, I realized I still had a lot of work to do. So I dug deeper to find out what else I could change…

Second, share less information
The data collected about you is provided by you. But you can limit the amount of information you make accessible in two ways: remove some of it from your profile and share less on Facebook.

  • Removing information from your profile: Do you need to include your high school, college or hometown in your profile information? I realized that no, I do not. I went through and cleaned up my profile to remove that kind of information, as well as my phone number and other personal info that was unnecessary.
  • Sharing less often: You create data about you not only by posting on Facebook, but also by sharing and liking other posts and even things outside of Facebook that you share via Facebook. If you cut back on that kind of usage, you’ll cut back on the data collected about you.

Third, don’t use Facebook as your login elsewhere
When you need to create a login at a new site, you’re often given the option of simply logging in via Facebook. How easy is that? I used to do it! Now I don’t. I had to go back to some websites and create new logins in order to remove those sites and apps from my Facebook account, and that was a pain, but worth it.

Moving forward, take a minute to create new login rather than use your Facebook login and this won’t be an issue.

To see where you’ve already allowed access, you can log in to your Privacy Settings and Tools to review what kinds of access you’ve allowed, as well as the Apps you’ve granted access to. There you can remove the apps and sites you don’t want connected.

I was shocked to see the dozens of apps and websites that had access to my account, most of which I didn’t even recognize. Removing them took a while as I had to check the box next to each one at a time (without any “Select All” option) then click Remove. All told, I removed 41 apps and websites: 41!

Fourth, review information in your profile
I went through this exercise, and I was shocked at how much personal information I had shared via my Facebook data, some of it very old. For example, I had written an About description six years ago, in 2012, and I don’t even remember writing it!

I couldn’t figure out how to delete everything I want to delete. For example, I don’t share my birth year because you’re not supposed to as it makes you vulnerable to identity theft. But Facebook has it. It’s in my profile information. It’s not public to the world or even my Facebook friends, but it is readily available to Facebook, and I can’t change that.

Fifth, review your Ad settings
You can also check your Ads settings and delete those interests you don’t want used to target ads to you. I had to laugh while going through this process because so many of the interests Facebook associates with me or anything but! In addition, you can see the categories you’re included in and the “about you” information advertisers are using to target you.

Then there is the information under “Advertisers you’ve interacted with.” For me, I had nothing under the actual ads interacted with, but I have hundreds of advertisers showing up in the category “Who have added their contact list to Facebook.” Facebook says of this category, “These advertisers are running ads using a contact list they uploaded that includes contact info you shared with them or with one of their data partners.” And that’s kind of scary. Because not only do I not recognize most of these advertisers, but I don’t understand how they have my name until I see the words “data partners” and I realize just how much data sharing goes on—which is what I’m trying to avoid. (Notice I said have and not had. That’s because there are so many of these advertisers that I ran out of time to delete them all…and I don’t even know if that’s possible, there are so many—a sobering thought!)

Sixth, download your Facebook data
I didn’t not go so far as to download my Facebook data, but it is an option. For me, what I’ve shared, I’ve shared. I can’t delete it. Even deleting my Facebook account wouldn’t delete the data collected about me. But for someone curious to see what that data is, you can.

I don’t want to #deletefacebook. As people and organizations have moved away from email as a way to communicate, Facebook is how I find out about events in my small town and milestones in the lives of distant friends (because my family and close friends stay in touch in other ways). That said, I don’t want to share any more than I have to, and I hope the steps I’m taking help to minimize my risk—and that my experience might help you to do the same.

When Likes Lead to Liability: The Dangers of Like-Farming on Facebook

Imagine you’re scrolling along, scanning your newsfeed in Facebook and willy nilly liking things you see—not liking as in thinking, “Oh, I like that,” but liking as in clicking the “Like” button. That seems like a harmless activity, right? And it should be.

But it’s not.

As with most things in this world, Facebook “Likes” have been turned into a tool for nefarious behavior.

Called like-farming, it’s activity not allowed on Facebook but it happens anyway.

Like-farming on Facebook
The goal of a so-called like-farmer is to get likes. Farming is a good word for the activity: These people essentially start Facebook pages, “plant” content, and “grow” the numbers of likes—then “harvest” that information.

Think pictures of adorable kittens, or the photos of children with captions such as, “How many likes can she get?” These are the kinds of posts designed for one purpose: to get likes.

As people click on the Like button, these “planted” posts grow in popularity and therefore show up in even more newsfeeds—because Facebook is based on giving you more of what you seem to like, quite literally.

This all sounds harmless but it doesn’t stop there. According to the Consumer Affairs website, the next steps are the harmful ones:

“…once the page has a sufficiently high popularity rating, the like-farmer either removes the page’s original content and replaces it with something else (usually malware or scam advertising); leaves the page as is and uses it as a platform for continued like-farming in order to spread malware, collect people’s marketing information or engage in other harmful activities; or outright sells the highly liked site to cybercriminals in a black market web forum.”

Whoa. We’re not talking about kittens or cute kids any longer, are we!

Ways to protect yourself from like-farming on Facebook
Although the emotional posts are the ones we’re used to seeing as Facebook users, there are other tricks like farmers use, like fake contests or fake charity donations or posts that ask you to like if you’re also a (fill in the blank). An article at That’s Nonsense lists all kinds of ways like farmers trick people into liking and sharing posts. We highly recommend you read it.

That said, it’s easy to protect yourself from like-farming. We’ll start with the obvious: Don’t click on the Like button for everything you see. You can mentally appreciate a post without physically telling the world that you like it. You can also keep yourself safe with these tips if you want to keep clicking “Like” without worry:

  • Be suspicious. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Err on the side of caution.
  • If a post says you have to like, share and/or comment to take part in a contest, don’t.
  • Don’t be guilted into liking, sharing or commenting. You know those posts that say most people won’t copy/paste/share? That’s using guilt to get you to participate. Pass those posts by.
  • Be especially cautious about liking posts that are deliberately meant to pull at your heart strings. Like-farmers have no integrity. They will use a picture of a child with Down syndrome, a wounded warrior or an abused animal to their advantage. They will encourage you to click “Like” if you hate cancer, or type “Amen” if you love Jesus. You get the idea.
  • Also, any post that is out there to see how many likes it can get, from supposed photo contests to school experiments, should be avoided.
  • For more information, check out the tips on spotting like-farming posts here.

Lest you think it’s not such a big deal if you click on a dubious post, keep in mind that you are taking part in a scam when you do so, and encouraging others to follow suit. If your Facebook friends see that you’ve liked something, they might do the same. Should there be negative consequences to that, when the like-farmer gets to the “harvest” step, you’ll be the one that put their information at risk. Don’t be that guy.

And don’t like everything on Facebook either.

Facebook Foibles: 10 Social Media Safety Tips for Seniors

Senior citizens are the fastest growing demographic among social media users: 35% of senior citizens are using social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and that number is trending decidedly upward. For many older adults, social media makes it possible to be connected with far-flung kids, grandkids and friends in a way never possible before.

Although people in that age group enjoy the connecting with family and staying in touch with friends, social media sites like Facebook are not without risks. If you’re in that 60+ demographic or you have a friend or family member who is, and engaging in Facebook or other social media usage, let’s go over some social media safety tips to keep seniors safe.

Social media safety tip 1: Use strong passwords
First and foremost, people of every age must use strong passwords when doing any activity online, not just Facebook. Accounts do get hacked, and if the password used for Facebook is used elsewhere too, that could lead to even more trouble. Seniors (and all of us, really) should follow advice for creating strong passwords. And, in my experience with older relatives, these passwords should be written down somewhere in case they are forgotten later.

Social media safety tip 2: Use the privacy settings
Seniors might not realize all that they are exposing themselves too when publicly sharing and communicating on sites like Facebook. Therefore it’s a good idea to have some kind of privacy set up. Facebook makes it easy to tweak all kinds of privacy settings. Take a look. There might be some areas you hadn’t considered that you definitely want to make private once you see all of the options.

Social media safety tip 3: Practice self censorship
In addition to using Facebook’s settings to make content private, seniors should be cautioned to practice self censorship as well. Not everything needs to be made public. If it’s information you don’t really need to share, don’t. This includes information about family members and friends too. Sure, you might be concerned about your niece about to have surgery, but sharing that in a public forum such as Facebook might go against your niece’s wish to keep her surgery private.

Social media safety tip 4: Beware scam messages
Just like email will deliver scam messages to your inbox, so will Facebook Messenger do the same. If you receive a message from someone you don’t know, you should probably ignore it. Period.

Social media safety tip 5: Be selective about your friends
Just like in real life, you don’t have to be friends with everyone. Be choosy. Just because someone sends you a friend request does not mean you have to accept it. Ask yourself, “Do I really benefit by being friends with this person on Facebook?” The fewer the “friends” the better, in many cases.

Social media safety tip 6: Keep your time away from home or alone to yourself
Under no circumstances should you publicly post that you will either be away from home or home alone. Even with strict privacy settings (see tip #2), that information could get to someone who does not need to know that your house is empty or that you are vulnerable. This goes for vacations too: Save your pictures until you are back home and then post them.

Social media safety tip 7: Verify before you share
Facebook is full of posts being shared by other users, but that does not mean you should share them too without verifying them first, especially after all of the fake news in the last presidential election. If you’re ever in doubt about the validity of a post, do not share it. Just let it be.

Social media safety tip 8: Don’t click “like,” don’t type “amen”
This same advice about not sharing applies to liking and typing “amen” too. Oftentimes you have a picture tugging at your heart strings encouraging you to click “Like” or type “amen” or do something else. This is probably a case of like farming and will only lead to trouble later. You can see it, you can have your heartstrings tugged, but you’re better off just scrolling right on past it.

Social media safety tip 9: Click less, not more
Sadly, Facebook is fraught with dangers, so be wary where you click. Try to only click through when you know it’s going to take you to a valid site, like a news site that you’re familiar with. Otherwise you are putting yourself at risk for a lot of ads or even malware. Just as with your friends, be selective about your clicks.

Social media safety tip 10: Know this—If it sounds to good to be true, it is
Promises of money, great deals, rewards…even if they come from friends (who might have had their Facebook accounts hacked)…should be ignored. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. So assume the worst and skip the post or delete the message.

There is much good that can come from senior citizens being on social media sites like Facebook. They can be much more connected than ever before, to family and friends. But the Internet is not a place ruled by the innocence of rainbows and unicorns. It has a dark side too. Making sure older adults understand and protect themselves from those dangers is imperative.

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