Technology

How to change your privacy and safety settings


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Now what? If you have a Twitter account, that’s likely a question you’re asking as you skim the latest headlines around Elon Musk assuming ownership of one of the world’s largest social media platforms.

He already changed his title on his own Twitter account to “Chief Twit,” carried a porcelain sink into the company’s San Francisco headquarters and fired four of its top executives.

Late last week, Musk updated the headlines with a tweet — of course — writing, “Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints. No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”

As you might expect, that tweet, along with others Musk’s made in the past few days, has sparked a flurry of reaction across industry, politics, disinformation, and anti-hate-speech watchers worldwide.

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A self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist, the Tesla and SpaceX founder has a long history of pushing the limits of what is considered acceptable on social media. His tweets have landed him in hot water with the SEC over securities fraud and elicited warnings from the World Health Organization over COVID and vaccine misinformation, among many others.

With Musk at the helm, there’s no telling what direction Twitter will head. People are already deleting their accounts or trying to at least put some additional safeguards in place. Here’s a handy guide to getting as much control as possible over your account.

How to make your Twitter account more secure

No matter what you plan to do with your Twitter account, it’s always good to ensure it’s as secure as possible. This means having a unique and complex password and setting up two-factor authentication — steps that make it harder to get hacked.

It’s also a good time to back-up everything you’ve posted to your Twitter account, including photos, DMs, and other snippets of life you might want to remember later. It’s easy to do, although time-consuming, by following the steps to download your Twitter data.

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If you’ve been on the platform a while, you should also periodically clean up and purge your tweets. This is easiest to do automatically with a free tool such as Semiphemeral. It lets you set guidelines on what to get rid of and when — like automatically deleting anything older than 30 days unless it has at least 10 retweets or at least 20 likes.

Tweetdelete is another excellent tool here. It’s also free for basic use but costs $15 for premium features that allow more advanced functions, such as excluding up to 100 individual tweets from deletion, which can be helpful for automatic mode.

You can also lock down your tweets to make sure only people who follow you see them. To do this, go into your Settings > Privacy and Safety> Audience and Tagging, then select Protect Your Tweets.

Don’t feed the trolls

Twitter is all about “social” interaction. I put social in quotes here because typing a few hundred characters to someone halfway around the world is hardly social, but we’ll let it slide. Still, there are plenty of people on Twitter who want nothing more than to start heated debates, spew hate, and make everyone else’s day as miserable as their own.

Blocking people might seem like the best way to get those trolls to disappear, but there’s a wrinkle.

When you block someone — by clicking on the three dots next to their profile or on one of their tweets, then select “Block @User” — they won’t be able to send you tweets or tag you in posts, and you’ll never see them again unless you decide to unblock them in the future.

The quirk here is that they’ll immediately know that you’ve blocked them, and if they’re bent on harassing you, they can easily make a new account and start the cycle over again.

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In these cases, muting a user is sometimes even more effective. By selecting “Mute @User” in the menu on their tweet or profile page, you’ll never see their messages again, but they won’t know that you’ve muted them. They can keep yelling into the void, and you can move on with your day.

You should also report any harasser, fake news, or suspected spam account. You can find the report option in the same three-dot menu. Select the offending tweets for Twitter staff to look at and decide if they need to take more punitive action, such as suspending the offending account.

Spammers, scammers, and bots, oh my!

Many accounts on Twitter aren’t worth interacting with because they’re not real. Bot accounts often seek out actual people to harass, advertise to, or attempt to scam through sketchy tweets and messages.

Your first step in combating these types of accounts is to head into Settings > Notifications > Filters and make sure “Quality Filter” is turned on. Then, click on “Muted Notifications” and mute all notifications from people who haven’t confirmed their email and phone number.

This will get rid of many of the bot accounts. Still, you can take things even further with a few simple tools I reported earlier this year, such as BotSight, an iOS and web app. It works for Chrome and iOS and actively checks tweets as you scroll, using data to calculate how likely the post is from a bot versus a real person. It does this in real-time, so it doesn’t slow down browsing, and it’s a great weapon against Twitter spam and scams.

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If you want to check an entire topic for bot activity, you can use BotAmp, a slick web app that compares bot activity across Twitter keywords and hashtags. It’s super easy to use and can be eye-opening. Other tools like FollowerAudit and Bot Sentinel can check specific accounts for suspicious activity as well.

It’s also a good idea to block DMs (direct messages) from anyone who doesn’t follow you. Do this by heading into Settings > Privacy and Safety > Direct Messages and ensuring that the “Allow message requests from everyone” is turned off. Also, enable “Filter low-quality messages” to protect against spam.

Filters are your best friend

If you plan to continue using Twitter as you always have but don’t want to hear about the Elon Musk deal — or any other particular topic, for that matter — it’s easy to filter those topics by blocking words and phrases. Head to your Settings > Privacy and Safety > Mute and Block and then click “Muted Words” to begin adding words to your mute list. Here you can type whatever you want to mute, and if someone you follow tweets or retweets a message that includes that word, the entire tweet will be blocked from your timeline.

So, for example, if you’re tired of hearing about Elon Musk buying Twitter, add “Elon Musk,” “Elon,” and “Musk” to the list. That will cover all the uses of his name and dramatically cut down the number of tweets you see about Twitter’s leadership shakeup. You can do this with any news story, topic, or event you’re just fed up with.

How to delete your account for good

If you’ve just had enough and are ready to call it quits for good, Twitter lets you deactivate and permanently delete your account. Follow Twitter’s deactivation guide for the steps, but as I said above, make sure you’ve downloaded a copy of your data first. You must request a copy of your files before deactivating your account.

Also, remember that once your account is deleted, someone else can sign up using your name. And as my colleague Brett Molina has warned, your information might still appear on search engines like Google and Bing. You have to follow up with the appropriate search engine to have that data removed. 



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