There I was on my laptop: scrolling through my Facebook timeline back to 2007. I swore I could see cobwebs fluttering across the screen as Facebook struggled to load my past posts and status updates.
After what felt like an hour, I finally made it to the beginning of my life on Facebook. My first status update?
Lack of punctuation and capitalization are cardinal sins in my personal writing. Yet here I was, at the age of 16, throwing caution to the wind and saying whatever the heck I felt like, using whatever form of English I wanted on this new-fangled Internet platform.
As I started to scroll upward, making my way back to 2016, I was stunned by the plethora of personal information I had made available for the Internet to see. My embarrassing lack of grammar aside, I cringed at my silly, whiny posts like, “Alexis is missing her best friend….” and statuses filled with unnecessary F-bombs and swear words.
I couldn’t hit “delete” fast enough.
My complete disregard for keeping certain pieces of information offline really shouldn’t have surprised me. This was during the early days of Facebook, before cyberbullying and cyber-crimes were well-known issues.
And, of course, it was well-before I was a military spouse. I shared all of this information because that’s what Facebook was for, right? And, come on, everyone else was doing it!
Today, I’m much more cautious about what information I share online. That’s mainly because my husband has forced me to sit through his lectures on internet safety and the importance of OpSec (no joke). Even though he’s a little OCD about his cyber-hygiene, he’s 100% right about how important it is for military families to take internet safety seriously.
It’s easy to forget there are 7 billion people in this world, and over 3 billion of them use the Internet. It’s not just your milspouse friends, work buddies and grandma who are cruising Facebook these days; security officers, bosses, and terrorist groups are using it as well.
What’re they looking for?
In the case of civilian employers, they’re looking for any photos or activity that would make you an undesirable hire. Frequently ranting about your political views, insulting your last boss, consistently swearing in status updates, or old pictures of you drinking every weekend with your friends in college could ruin your credibility and cost you a job.
For service members, any number of unit personnel are looking for inappropriate behavior that could put your security clearance (if you have one) at risk. Disrespecting the flag or other U.S. symbols, using illegal substances, or getting involved in illicit activity are just some of the ways you can jeopardize your security clearance…especially when you post about it online.
As for terrorist groups and other unfriendlies, they’re looking for patterns. Reading through all of your posts from when you first joined Facebook to today allows them to identify who’s important to you, what your interests are, and what kind of schedules you keep. They can reach out to you online, appearing to be someone stationed at your base, and make a connection with you by mentioning any of the various things you post about on a regular basis (like how you both just loooooove coffee!).
While these cases may sound extreme, they do happen. People do lose jobs over what they shared on Facebook; military members do get in trouble for the illicit behavior they share on their timelines; and Facebook is a platform terrorist groups and others are using to exploit military spouses for information on troop movements and more.
The good news is there are several easy steps you can take to prevent your personal information from ending up in front of the wrong eyes.
Set up the maximum privacy settings for your profile.
You’d think this is a no-brainer, but it bears mentioning. This is your frontline defense against anyone you don’t want looking at your information on Facebook.
Go to the beginning of your timeline and start scrubbing.
That means going through your profile and deleting old status updates, pictures, and posts from your timeline. If you need help discerning what to delete and what to leave, think of the status/post/picture this way:
- Would I want my grandmother to see it?
- Would I want my employer/commander to see it?
- Do I cringe or feel embarrassed when I see this post?
- Is this post related in any way to my spouse deploying, promoting, going TDY, PCSing or being in uniform?
- Am I or my spouse in uniform in this picture?
- Was I being an angsty, dramatic young adult in this post/status/picture?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions then you should consider deleting the post/status/picture. That less-than-desirable information could come back to haunt you if someone is determined enough to dig through your timeline to find it.
Also consider deleting some of your “regular” status updates that reference your usual activities. Posting about a coffee date with your friend may seem harmless, but if you post about that same date every week, it’s a pattern.
It’s important to eliminate patterns from your timeline.
Remove contact information from your profile.
Is it really necessary to have your phone number, mailing addresses, Instagram account, Pinterest account, religious views, political views, all the places you’ve ever lived, and your autobiography in your “About” section?
Consider paring down some of that information. Leaving your birthday is fine (because who doesn’t love to get a “Happy Birthday” from your Facebook friends?) but consider removing most of the other information from your profile. It seems harmless, but some of it (like religious views) can make you a target for those who violently disagree, and other items (like your mailing address) make it a little too easy to find you in real life or perpetrate identity theft.
If all of this seems like a bit of overkill, ask yourself this: Do I really want that stuff floating around on the internet?
Sure, your profile may have the highest privacy settings to keep people out, but remember this: you’re not paying to use Facebook. And if you’re not paying for something, then you’re not the customer. It makes you think about what exactly Facebook is using all of your information for.
We unfortunately live in a day and age where military families can never be too cautious with their personal information on the internet. Eliminating old posts/pictures/statuses from your timeline makes you less of a target for online predators. It also allows you to hide those embarrassing moments of your life you’d rather a future employer not know about.
While purging your timeline may seem unnecessary and tedious, it’s not something you’ll come to regret. You might, however, come to regret those pictures of you holding a red solo cup and flipping off the camera…better to be safe than sorry!
Alexis is the founder of Wife in the Wild Blue Yonder, a blog dedicated to providing advice and resources to new military spouses. She’s determined to help others by sharing personal stories and useful information that other military spouses can learn from and apply to their own lives. She’s a passionate writer and photographer, a Harry Potter fanatic, a lover of dogs, a swimmer and a yogi. She’s always up for an adventure and she loves to travel. You can find out more about her blog at wifeinthewildblueyonder.com. You can also stay up to date with Alexis on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+.