If you don’t want your nearest and dearest to know what you’re up to every minute of every day, as a general rule, try posting less frequently. Your photos, check-ins, and text updates can convey more information than you intend. Beyond that, here’s how to tweak certain key settings on your apps to leave a smaller digital footprint.
Your social media accounts help you share your daily life with friends. But the mobile apps can go further than that, automatically alerting everyone when you become available online, read a message, or even visit a nearby location.
Many social apps will show your friends a notification when you’re active, and even when you’re offline, they can display the last time you visited. If you’d rather not broadcast your presence, many social networks will let you turn off this display.
In WhatsApp for Android, head to the main app menu by tapping the three dots on the top right, then choose Settings. If you’re on an iOS device, you can access Settings straight from a tab on the bottom of the screen. Either way, your next step is to select Privacy. From this screen, tap Last seen and then Nobody to prevent anyone from knowing the last time you accessed WhatsApp.
Instagram also recently added an indicator of when you were last active. To turn this off, tap the Profile tab (a portrait silhouette) and then hit the menu button (on Android, it looks like three dots, and on iOS, it’s a cog icon) on the top right. Finally, turn off Show activity status. As on WhatsApp, this hides your own activity but also prevents you from seeing when anyone else was last active.
Similarly, you can hide your active status in Facebook Messenger too, but it stops you viewing who else is currently online. Hit the People icon (the two portrait shapes) at the bottom of the screen, then tap Active, and turn the slider next to your own name to off. All your messages will still come through, but no one else will know when you’re actually active in the app.
Turn off read receipts
When you’re trying to preserve your privacy, one-on-one messaging options let you stay off the social media radar while still keeping in touch with people. So next time you’re ready to post an update, consider pinging a few friends in a group chat on, say, WhatsApp, rather than broadcasting your activities to everyone you know. To preserve even more of your privacy, first turn off read receipts, those notifications that let your friends know when you’ve read their messages.
In WhatsApp for Android, for example, you can head to the main app menu (tap the three dots to the top right) then choose Settings, then Privacy, and untick the Read receipts box. It’s the same on iOS, but you can access Settings straight from the bottom tab bar. With that done, no one will know when you’ve picked up your messages, but you won’t know when your friends have seen theirs, either. On the same screen you can tap Last seen and then Nobody to stop anyone from knowing when you were last active inside WhatsApp. Again, this setting blocks you from knowing the same about any of your contacts, so you can’t have it both ways.
Twitter also lets you disable read receipts in your direct messages, so contacts won’t know whether you’ve read their notes yet. Tap your avatar icon on the top left, pick Settings and privacy, go to Privacy and safety, and untick the Show read receipts button. The usual deal is in place here as well—once you untick that box, you won’t be able to see when other people have picked up their direct messages either.
In the Facebook Messenger and Snapchat apps, you can’t turn off read receipts. Still, sticking to individual chats in apps like these will preserve your lurker status better than posting on public social media networks.
Social media apps can use your current location to feed you relevant ads and alert you about nearby events. But they can also broadcast your whereabouts—a feature you might want to turn off.
On Snapchat, for example, tap the ghost or Bitmoji icon on the top left. Then hit the cog icon on the top right, pick See my location, and make sure Ghost Mode is switched on. This mode prevents others from seeing where you are.
Facebook also shares your location with your friends. To disable this feature, tap the menu button (three horizontal lines) on the right-hand side of the screen. On Android, your next step is to pick Account Settings; on iOS, choose Settings, followed by Account Settings. Either way, follow up by tapping Location, selecting Nearby Friends, and setting the main toggle switch to off. This will prevent your friends from looking up your current location or getting alerts when you’re in the area.
These networks can also attach your location to your status updates. On the bright side, Facebook and Twitter make it easy to avoid oversharing: They will only reveal your location if you specifically tap the location-tagging button while composing your post. Still, it’s worth double-checking your message before you post, to make sure you’re not accidentally revealing too much.
Limit the audience
To use social media networks without broadcasting your presence, we’ve discussed sending direct messages to a few contacts rather than posting updates for all of them to see. In addition to that method, Facebook lets you limit the audience for your updates on a post-by-post basis.
Whenever you’re composing an update, tap the audience selector button just under your name—it will probably say Friends, but it might have another label, depending on the default audience for your posts. Once you tap it, you can limit who will be able to see this update: Simply select More followed by Specific friends. This lets you hide your update from most people on Facebook while still adding to the News Feed of a few select contacts.
No other social media app gives you the same level of control. However, Twitter and Instagram do let you choose between posting public messages and limiting your audience to only your confirmed followers. Boosting your privacy in this way does mean that you’ll have to specifically approve any new followers before they can see your posts, but it won’t affect your list of current followers.
On Twitter, you can switch to a protected account by tapping your avatar on the top left, then choosing Settings and privacy, Privacy and Safety, and Protect your Tweets.
To do the same on Instagram, tap the Profile icon (the single portrait silhouette) followed by the menu button (on Android, it’s three dots; on Instagram, it’s a cog icon) on the top right of the screen. Then turn on the Private Account option.