Social (Network) Distancing

A topic that comes up at nearly every writers conference or workshop is social networks. Most insiders agree there’s value in a social media presence. They also agree there’s no “right” network to join between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. The right one is the one where you feel comfortable consistently interacting and engaging with readers and other writers. Personally, I’m a fan of Twitter. No particular reason, I just gravitated to it. The lens I view these platforms through is a little different, though. Before I reply to a tweet or retweet, my first thought is how the information may be used. Or, rather, misused. Call it an occupational hazard.

A good example happened last week. Someone posted what appeared to be an innocent question, “Who is your high school’s most famous alumni?” Over 6,700 people answered, including several authors I know in real life and some I Twitter-know. I was about to respond, too. Seemed harmless, right? Then I realized the answer revealed key information that can and probably will be misused.

See, over the last few years, there have been massive data breaches exposing personally identifiable information on more than 9 billion people. On any given day, usernames and passwords are stolen, leaked, or hacked by the thousands. All of that information circulating around has led to increases in fraud at all kinds of online companies and services, including healthcare, banking, and government agencies like the IRS (tax refunds), Social Security, and unemployment.

What does this have to do with the tweet? A lot.

Think about the steps you go through when setting up an online account. You create usernames, passwords, add multi factor authentication, and lock in answers to security questions. Two typical questions are the name of your high school and your high school mascot. I’m not suggesting there was ill intent but it’s actually an ingenious question if there was. By specifying “famous alumni,” linking the celebrity to the high school in a simple Google search away. Go to any high school’s website and you’ll immediately learn the mascot. Twitter is a public broadcast platform, meaning anyone – including bad guys – can now see the answers those 6,700+ people provided. Those bad guys can now answer 2 common security questions for those 6,700 people.

So, yes, social networks are great for engaging with peers, finding your tribe, and building an audience. But be careful about what you put out there.

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