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Privacy risks in the age of social media

The conventional conception that the youngest family members pose the most risk to the family’s collective privacy and reputation must be debunked. It’s the parents we need to be watching out for.

There has been much in the news recently around notable people having their old social media activity exposed, with a particularly nascent example being blogger and YouTuber Elle Darby. The blogger made a public apology this week after tweets from 2011 resurfaced showing her targeting several ethnic minority groups in a rant.

Similar cases can be seen in sportsmen Ollie Robinson and Michael Vaughan whose historic offensive tweets resurfaced on social media in June 2021 and November 2021 respectively, with the former being suspended from English cricket as a result.

These cases are a cautionary tale about the need to do due diligence when it comes to your social media activity. And, perhaps more importantly, to do audits or ‘background checks’ on your historical tweets and Facebook and Instagram posts. Additionally, this may extend to checking your liked videos on YouTube and who you subscribe to, and the same for platforms like TikTok.

Don’t think the biggest risk is the kids

For some time, the general assumption has been that tween and teen generations are the easiest window into a family’s life. But in today’s world, the reality is that Gen-Z dominate the ‘safe and secure accounts’ in the social media space.

The younger generation are more likely to have tighter privacy settings on their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts than their parents, and even those in the generation above them, Millennials.

This is likely because they have grown up in the clutches of social media and hence are not only better educated on it, but have had the benefit of being constantly warned about it by their parents growing up. A classic example might be parents’ incessant warnings about what prospective employers might see when they pry into a candidate’s social media.

Another reason might be attributed to many Gen-Zers’ recognition of the element of mystery that comes from having social media profiles that are not immediately accessible, especially amongst their peers.

So, without you realising, you may be the biggest risk to your family’s privacy and hence its reputation.

It’s the older relatives of a family that sometimes fail to remember everything they declare, or have declared, on social media is public to the world. In many cases, they are unaware of their privacy settings, have failed to do a social media audit, or have simply forgotten their passwords and so cannot access their accounts.

Of course, not everyone is a figure in the public eye, and not everyone has offensive social media activity they would rather not see resurfaced. Yet, it is a lesson to us all. Review your accounts with the utmost scrutiny – imagine all the possible things you could be called out or ‘cancelled’ for, and ensure you aren’t seen to be supporting them.

Not everyone has the privilege of privacy

By all means, not everyone on social media can have tight privacy settings – many individuals and businesses use it to be public and open about what they’re doing. For some, it is their main source of communication and allows them to build a relationship of trust with stakeholders. It's in these cases where a background check is absolutely necessary.

If this is your situation, think twice about what you reveal to the public. There is an increasing spate of ‘trends’ on social media that allow individuals to share their favourite things, their yearbook photos or their pets. While these are fun trends to participate in, they often reveal personally identifiable information (PII) that is typically used in passwords and security questions.

How much information you choose to reveal is up to the individual. So, if you choose to remain an open book to the public, be vigilant about what you share and what you’ve said in the past.

Reputational recommendations:

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Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.