Social media has taken over the planet. Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are the most popular platforms with billions of users, while Twitter, Reddit and Pinterest claim hundreds of millions.
On my national radio show and global Bloomberg TV program, I take calls from people like you who have questions about anything from buying the right smart home tech or getting a copy of everything their kids do on their phones to how to make money in this gig economy.
Social media comes up a lot. Here are some questions I have fielded that you probably have on your mind, too.
Q I accidentally liked an ex’s photo. Can I take it back?
A No, you made a dumb mistake. Most social networks notify users of any likes on their profiles. Unliking a post won’t erase the original notification, so you’ll only be safe if notifications are turned off.
Try to be more careful in the future. Better yet, unfollow your ex. You don’t click anymore.
Q I’m looking for a job/date/whatever. What do other people see when they look at my Facebook profile? I live a respectable life … well, for the most part.
A You’re right in assuming anyone you meet will look you up online. Facebook and LinkedIn have “View as” options that let you look at your profile through the eyes of another user. This trick is useful for checking if your specific privacy settings are working or not.
On the desktop version of Facebook, open your News Feed and click your name in the top left. Then click on the three-dot button at the bottom of your cover photo next to Activity Log and select View As.
On the desktop version of LinkedIn, open your profile page and look for a button in the upper right corner that says Edit public profile & URL.
Sure, you can make particular posts and photos viewable to only certain people. But if you’re questioning whether a certain part of your life should be public, best leave it off social media altogether.
Q My grandson told me that I’m an “oversharer” with the family on social media. What am I doing wrong? I just want to be a part of their lives and tell them what’s on my mind.
A This reminds me of a joke. Did you hear about the woman whose husband called her out for being an oversharer on Facebook? Clearly, his hemorrhoids were making him cranky!
Your bratty grandson is telling you that you’re annoying. You’re posting too much personal information that friends and followers don’t care about or feel uncomfortable reading. Always think before you post, and consider the interests and tastes of your audience. Tap or click for 5 details you shouldn’t share on social media.
One more thing: Know that there’s a distinct difference between “Here’s what I think about this” and what should really be a conversation between you and your therapist.
Q I have a very annoying ex/friend/coworker. If I block them, will they know? I don’t want to make a difficult situation worse.
A This answer depends on the platform. Facebook and Instagram don’t explicitly alert users when they’ve been blocked. Instead, they hide you from the person you want to ignore and the user won’t be able to find you, no matter how hard they look.
Twitter shows an explicit message when you visit a profile that’s blocked you. You won’t be able to contact this user or access their content in any direct way.
In real life, you would just avoid this person. Online, this task is actually easier. Just mute their posts (read further to see how).
Q I know sites like Facebook collect data on me. What do they do with it all?
A Whenever you use a free site like Facebook, you are the product. Facebook collects the data you voluntarily give on your profile and it is used by advertisers. When an advertiser can better target their messages, they are willing to pay more money because their ads will be more effective.
For example, let’s say you’re a 50-year-old woman, who loves golf, travels and works in the financial field. The ads you see will be much different than a 28-year-old newly married male who has a passion for NASCAR and music festivals. The more money the advertisers pay, the more money Facebook makes.
Q I need evidence for a legal situation that deals with a custody battle. I need to prove my ex is an unfit parent. Can someone tell if I saved their post?
A Social media brings out the best in people. Instagram has no issue with you saving or taking a screenshot of a person’s post, nor does Instagram send alerts when you screenshot a user’s Story. However, there’s a big caveat. With direct messages that expire, any screenshots you take will send an alert to the user.
That logic extends to Snapchat, where the entire point of the app is to exchange messages that expire. Users will be alerted if you screenshot any videos, images or text conversations.
Facebook and Twitter do not alert users if you take a screenshot.
So capture away and be sure to save these images on your phone and as a backup in the cloud, too. You don’t want to lose some great posts if they can work to your advantage.
Q My kids want to use TikTok. How does it work? Is it safe?
A I was in Barcelona last week and my tour guide asked me the same thing! TikTok is a video sharing app that has exploded in popularity, particularly with young people. TikTok is fun, but not always safe for kids.
A recent study from cybersecurity company Check Point found TikTok had serious flaws that were addressed in a December update. Hackers could manipulate user info and expose personal data. Be sure you get the latest version.
If you are going to let the kids use it, switch to a Private account so complete strangers cannot contact them and change all safety settings to Friends. And check “followers and following” regularly to make sure they are abiding by your rules.
I have a fabulous tech rules contract for you to use with the kids in your family. This way, the kids know what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to devices, screen time, privacy and security. And best of all, I’m the bad guy and you’re not. You’re welcome.
Q I looked up a few old flames because I was curious about what they look like now. Can someone see when I search for them?
A Don’t bother. They look old and you don’t.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram don’t inform users when others visit their profile, and your search history is private to your account.
LinkedIn, however, is designed to help employers and workers connect with one another. Even with a free account, you can see the last five people who visited your page. If you upgrade to a premium account, you can see all the visitors from the last 90 days.
Q My crazy relative posts political posts all day long. It’s annoying. Can I stop seeing this person’s posts without unfriending them? That would cause major drama.
A “Muting” users on social media will remove all their content from your feed without removing them from your friends list. Best of all, the user will have no idea you did it.
On Facebook, use your desktop to visit the profile or page you want to mute and click Following. Select Unfollow.
On Twitter, visit their profile and click the three-dot icon next to their name. This reveals a few options including Mute.
On Instagram, tap or click on the three-dot icon next to any post. You’ll now see various options including Report, Unfollow and Mute.
If only this worked in real life.
Q I cleaned up my social media account. Can people still find embarrassing old posts I’ve deleted?
A I’m so glad there was no social media when I was in college. Thankfully, nearly all social media platforms let you delete posts and content you no longer want to show. Keep in mind screenshots and archived pages can live on long after you’ve removed them.
Can you imagine the political campaigns of people, say 20 years from now?
Q I was upset last night at my boyfriend, had a few drinks and fired off a nasty message. Now it’s morning and I know better. Can I take the message back?
A It’s clear your relationship is on the rocks. If your recipient has already read the message, the damage has already been done. If not, here’s what to do:
On the Facebook app, tap and hold on the message you wish to remove. You’ll see a message box pop up. Tap Remove for Everyone.
On the Instagram app, open your messages and tap and hold on the message you wish to remove. When the dialogue box pops up, select Unsend.
Unfortunately, Twitter does not offer this service.
You probably said what you wanted to say if you only had the nerve, but there are a few life lessons here.