Protect yourself and your data when using social networking sites

Updated2021

Table of Contents

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    Introduction

    We use social media to connect with friends and loved ones, and to spread messages we find important. At the same time, social media use our communication and contacts to make money. They share information about us that we may or may not be aware they are sharing, like our buying habits, social connections, location, birthday, and other identifying information. When you use their sites, you are agreeing to their terms of service, which say it is ok for them to share or sell this information. Sometimes it is not clear how public they will make that information.

    Social media are actively monitored by governments and law enforcement. They collect publicly available data, and gather "metadata" about that data which we may not think about them gathering (like when a photo was taken, or who is connected to whom). They may ask social media companies to turn over private information about individuals of interest, often including human rights defenders.

    While we only provide instructions for certain social media in this guide, many social media will give you options like the ones listed here. We recommend looking around your account settings taking the same steps to protect yourself on each of your social media accounts.

    If you use any of the services below, click the links to view checklists that can help you secure your account.

    → Facebook

    → Google

    → Instagram

    → Twitter

    → WhatsApp

    → Yahoo

    Alternatives

    There are alternatives to social media that can help you organize and spread messages without leaving your personal information as exposed as it is on mainstream platforms:

    • For organizing with a carefully-chosen group of people, moving your group to encrypted chat like Matrix, Delta Chat, or Signal can be one of the easiest options.
    • For a larger private group, look into setting up a Mattermost instance.

    The shortcoming of these options is that they can't support general public outreach the way that mainstream social media can. They provide better support for private groups. And that may be what you need. Make the decision based on what is best for your movement.

    For a public group in the style of Facebook or Twitter, you might want to explore setting up on Mastodon. Its shortcoming is that it is less well-known, so not as many people are already there ready to spread information (what we call "network effects"). But for a movement that you want to expand, it might be the right choice.

    Further reading