I have always loved to think of my life decisions in the simplistic black and white terms of the classic Animaniacs Good Idea / Bad Idea segments.
Here’s a great example:
Good idea: taking a deep breath before jumping into a swimming pool.
Bad idea: taking a deep breath after jumping into a swimming pool.
Animaniacs is a classic, and I love how good idea / bad idea makes it seem so easy to do the right thing. Of course, over the years I’ve found that life is rarely as neatly broken up into good and bad as the show made it seem. However, keeping your data and yourself safe online is one area in which the good and the bad are fairly self-evident, and it’s also an area that becomes more and more important each day. So let’s do it. Also, watch Animaniacs if you haven’t seen it — it’s a damn classic.
Good idea: Make sure you don’t share information about your location. Do not geotag!!
Bad idea: Posting your address, followed by a long story about how you’re home alone with the doors unlocked.
Good idea: Review your privacy settings on each of your platforms regularly.
Bad idea: Just making everything public, because you “don’t have any information worth stealing anyway.”
Good idea: Dying without ever knowing which Spice Girl you are most like based on your posts.
Bad idea: Authorizing any third party application you’re not familiar with (e.g. Perzonality Testz R Us LOLZ) to access your Facebook data for any purpose at all. It’s not worth it to find out which vegetable most closely matches your face. Though good lord I know it’s tempting. You should also prevent your data from being shared with apps that your Facebook friends are using – find more tips here.
Good idea: Regularly Google yourself in order to find out what potential employers would see if they checked up on you.
Bad idea: Avoid Googling yourself in order to never find out what potential employers would see if they checked up on you. I mean, I get it, but sticking your head in the sand to ensure that no problem ever reaches you at all is no way to….oh forget it, it’s a great way to live and I cannot hear you from way down here in the sand.
Good idea: Limiting the number of digital platforms you give your personal data to.
Bad idea: Setting up a profile on every new platform you encounter, using it for a few months, and then abandoning it. If a potential employer finds your 2003 MySpace blog, they’re the ones who will be sorry.
Good idea: Two factor authentication.
Bad idea: Giggling because “two factor authentication” sounds like something a robot would say. It does, but someone who uses the same password for everything and it’s “password1” really shouldn’t be laughing.
Good idea: Sharing pictures of your cat on Reddit or Imgur.
Bad idea: Sharing pictures of your child on Reddit or Imgur. This is at every parent’s discretion, and far be it for me to tell you how to parent your kid, but also why are you broadcasting the most vulnerable member of your family on the platforms with the most terrifying creeps.
Good idea: Not sharing your password with friends.
Bad idea: Using your most trusted barista at Starbucks as some sort of human password manager. I guarantee that barista will turn on you the moment your drink order becomes too idiotic. Don’t ask me how I know. *Sips Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip.*
Good idea: Taking everything you see online with a grain of salt
Bad idea: Kicking yourself for not realizing that Elvis was homeless in San Diego this whole time. This has nothing to do with privacy, but it’s important for your safety that you always verify what you read online. And also it’s important that I mention this story about Elvis because I was deeply upset when I found out this wasn’t true.
Good idea: Never revealing too much about yourself to strangers online.
Bad idea: Striking up a friendship with a nine-year-old painting prodigy, her mom, and her teenaged sister, only to later discover that it was actually just a middle aged woman playing three different characters. On an unrelated note, I just watched the original Catfish documentary, and boy is it good!!
Good idea: Familiarizing yourself with different kinds of phishing attacks.
Bad idea: Entering your online banking information into a random site so you can receive your tax refund that is being emailed to you and you haven’t submitted your taxes in six years, but this should turn out pretty good.
Good idea: Declining to engage with trolls and bullies online.
Bad idea: Becoming an infamous internet troll and getting enough people angry at you that you eventually get doxxed.
Good idea: Only posting things online that you’re comfortable with everyone seeing, even if your privacy settings are airtight.
Bad idea: Posting specific, detailed rants about your boss on Facebook that would both allow your boss to finally get the leverage to fire you and also enable any enterprising stalker to easily find you at your workplace.
Good idea: Logging off once in a while to read a book.
Bad idea: Seriously, read books, or this is what will happen: