Craig Johnson

Beware Friends Reading Posts: The Scary Social Media Loophole

If you think that restricting your account only to friends makes your social media interactions private, think again.

Beware Friends Reading Posts: The Scary Social Media Loophole
The more eyes on your posts, the more chances of drawing the wrong kind of attention. | Photo by Yuvraj Singh, Unsplash.

Your Instagram is private, your tweets are protected, your Facebook posts are set to Friends, and you use a fake name on that new fringe social app and the hookup apps. So you can pretty much speak freely, right? You've done everything you can to keep strangers out. When you write a post, upload a photo, or share a meme, you're among friends, aren't you?

But it may actually be one of your friends who gets you in trouble, as recently happened to a waitress in Florida. The steakhouse server had helped prepare a giant takeout order that came to $735. The order was placed by a megachurch to feed attendees at a conference. A driver appeared, paid the bill, and drove away with the food, leaving the waitress a $0 tip. She posted her upset on Facebook.

Contrary to what you might think, the post did not come back to bite her because it was seen by her boss, or a coworker, or even a member of the church. No, it was one of her friends who read the post and took it upon herself to call the church and complain.

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The church made up for the slight, which it said was accidental, but now the steakhouse knew about the post. Complaining about customers on social media was a violation of company policy. The waitress got her tip but lost her job.

That you can limit the visibility of your posts to friends but can't control what even the most well-meaning friends do with those posts is just one way social media can sting you despite your privacy settings.

Tag! You're It

Another way you can be stung is when a friend tags you in a photo or "@s" you (pronounced "ats you") you in a conversation. Facebook makes it clear that anyone can tag you in photos and other posts. If you have a problem with being tagged, "you can remove the tag or ask the person who tagged you to remove the post," says Facebook. That's better than nothing, but what if the damage has already been done?

Take for example a young man who went on a daytrip to Philadelphia with his girlfriend of three months. During the fun, she snapped a picture of the two of them and posted it to her Facebook. Unbeknownst to him, she had tagged him in the photo.

“I ripped him a new one that I'm sure still hurts him to this day.”

Immediately Facebook started working as expected, rolling the photo into his friends' timelines so they could share in the fun he's having. Among the contacts of his who saw the photo was the other woman he was dating. Ouch!

That night, while he slept in blissful ignorance, his new girlfriend received a Facebook message. "Then the whole terrible truth spilled out," she said on BuzzFeed (username roger1217). The message was from the other woman, who'd not only been dating the guy longer but also feared she was pregnant by him.

"He was using me to cheat on his girlfriend of almost a year," said the new girlfriend, whose Facebook name is Megan Keller. "She and I talked online for a bit, me apologizing of course for not knowing."

The next day, the man woke up to a real mess. Keller says, "I ripped him a new one that I'm sure still hurts him to this day."

In other social media realms, the equivalent to tagging is called "atting." That's when someone writes your @username into their own post. It's the proper way to mention other users because, first of all, they get notified, and also because it could grow their following.

Make sure you allow at least one way for Facebook to notify you that you've been tagged in a photo. Some people turn off all notifications because they don't realize they can tailor them. For instance, if you find popup notifications on your phone too intrusive, sign up for email notifications instead.

Also, stay on top of your mentions in Twitter and Instagram to be sure nobody has "atted" you in an embarrassing way or in a conversation or context that could misrepresent your values and beliefs.

Screenshots Can Haunt You

Many a celebrity or politician has had a post come back to bite them long after deleting it from their social media account. Capturing screenshots of all activity in real time is automated at some media outlets. If you're a high-profile figure, there's no such thing as deleting a post.

For the rest of us, it's just bad luck when someone manages to grab a screenshot of a post before we can delete it. Your post could be captured by someone who's a friend today but an enemy tomorrow.

Both situations prove that limiting your profile to friends and making your account private offer no protection against screengrabs. Messaging app Snapchat entices users with privacy features like self-destructing messages and the supposed disabling of a smartphone's screenshot ability, but there are ways to capture the screen anyway.

Your posts might be grabbed and shared on platforms you're not even a member of. More and more these days, people are first aware of infamous tweets when they see a screencap somewhere else.

With Popularity Comes Scrutiny

We enjoy when our friends share our posts and retweet our tweets. It's nice to see our opinions and humor amplified by those we care about. But amplification is a sword that cuts both ways. The more eyes on your posts, the more chances of drawing the wrong kind of attention.

It only takes one bigmouth to miss your attempt at sarcasm and decry you to his or her followers to get you in hot water—all because a friend shared what you wrote.

Monitor your digital reputation by running a background report on yourself.

Be aware of this privacy loophole on social media. You can't control who tags you in a photo. You can't stop someone from atting you; that is, writing your @username into their own post. You certainly won't know if someone grabs a screenshot. All these methods can expose you on social media beyond any lines you try to draw with friends-only settings and private accounts.

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