Is It Safe to Link Social Media Accounts and Passwords?

Sharing isn’t caring when it comes to keeping your passwords safe and secure.

Should you link social media accounts? It sure would cut down on passwords. Between 2005 and 2015, social networking sites saw nearly a 10% increase in users, according to data from the Pew Research Center, which termed the change “a nearly tenfold jump.” In 2015, about 65 percent of Americans were not only found to be online, but to be using social media. New internet and communications habits were bringing changes to politics, news consumption, parenting, stress, and work. By now, you know the story.

Over time, it’s no surprise that social media usage has increased: Today, the Pew Research Center reports that 72% of the public uses some type of social media.

But let’s think more about what those numbers and these changing habits mean. Whereas in 2005, someone had an email account and maybe a Facebook, today that same person could have email, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Twitch…and, well, you get the point.

That’s a lot of passwords!

For every social media profile listed and every online account created, there is a password to go with it. The idea is overwhelming. In fact, research released by the password manager NordPass in early 2020 shared that the average person has 70 to 80 passwords. And, as they cheekily reported: “To put this into perspective, 80 words can make up a 4-verse poem. Or a pop song. For example, if we don’t count the repetition of the chorus, Blur’s ‘Song 2’ is roughly 70 words long.”

Why Do We Have So Many Passwords?

Anyone who had to memorize a poem in high school knows the challenges of remembering 80 words. Those four verses do not go by easily when standing in front of a crowd. Trying to remember the wording, delivery, and emotion all at once can be overwhelming. It’s a bit like the feeling you get when you keep plugging the wrong password into your bank account even when you know it is right.

Of course, passwords make sense. We value our privacy and our information. We look for ways to create order and protect our resources. A password is the virtual version of locking up your home. (It also, of course, exists outside of the internet. The Rosetta Stone of ancient Egypt is regarded as one of the oldest passwords we know of. And let’s not forget Hamlet even starts with a password exchange…or a knock-knock joke, depending on how you look at it.)

It’s likely that the first computer password arrived at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s, according to Wired. And it likely happened out of necessity. With multiple people logging into the same terminal at different times, and wanting to access their own private files, “a password on for each individual user as a lock seemed like a very straightforward solution.”

So, it would seem account passwords were born out of necessity. They helped bring order to chaos, and brought about some peace of mind along the way. And yet now, our passwords are sometimes chaos. You are likely occasionally annoyed by your passwords. Even the savviest online users might not always have the best password hygiene.

One way you might have tried to limit the number of passwords in use is by using one account to access many. For example, you can use your Google Account to sign in to other third-party apps or services, from Pinterest to Etsy. This is essentially a two-step process: 1) Go to an app or service you trust. 2) On the sign-in page, choose “Sign in with Google” or some variation thereof. You can then manage the accounts which become linked to your Google Account and unlink as needed. A periodic review and cleaning out is a good idea, especially since there may be linked accounts you have forgotten about.

closeup of digital screen filled with social media account icons

Linking your Google or Facebook account can create a seamless, easy experience. It is true that convivence is key in today’s online world. But easy does not necessarily mean safe. Information is valuable. By logging into a website via another account, Facebook or Google allows the website to make a request for data about you. And all too often, folks are not reading the privacy policies that detail what is happening.

But more troubling is that, via linked accounts, phishers can access loads of information. Consider this: Whoever hacks your linked social media account could gain access to everything else you tied to it. In 2018, Facebook announced that a security breach allowed hackers to access at least 50 million accounts, and potentially the many linked accounts. It was enough for some people to say “stop using Facebook to log in to apps and sites online.” And when hackers know more about you—say where you shop, what sites you frequent—they have more access to your vulnerabilities online.

So, even though it is an option, you can add more oomph to your cybersecurity by not linking accounts.

Here’s How to Protect Social Media Passwords

Cybersecurity is always in fashion. That said, with so many of us working remotely in 2020 and more and more interactions moving online to accommodate social distancing, it is especially important to have strong online security. Tightening up cybersecurity at home and in your personal life is a practice to get into. And it is a practice. Being safe online is a skill that needs to be learned, exercised, and sometimes even relearned. Scammers are smart, so you have got to be on top of your passwords!

The first step in cleaning up your social media password security is to keep your accounts separate. Your email account is an email account—not a master password. However, a password manager can step in here. With one central login, you can access a vault of stored passwords. A password generator can also help ensure your passwords are strong (aka not your mother’s maiden name).

Also, as communicators and marketers, password managers can be a godsend. If you have multiple social media managers, securely sharing login credentials through a centralized password manager keeps things clean.

Best Practices for Password Protection

Taking certain steps as you establish and build your online identity can help reduce threats. Here are some great starting tips for protecting your social media safety:

  • When you set up a new social media account, use a strong, unique password that is exclusive to that account. A password manager, like LastPass, which is like a vault for your access codes, can help.
  • Set your account to private whenever possible and be careful not to accept friend requests on personal platforms from people you do not know.
  • Avoid revealing too much information in bios and quizzes, especially information that could fill in the blanks for a fraudster, like a pet’s name or address.
  • Keep track of all accounts. Limit your digital footprint by deleting any accounts you no longer use.
  • Install anti-virus software on your home computer and remember that using public WiFi could create an opening for a hacker.
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