Social media is everywhere, isn't it? You've probably checked the feed on at least one of your social media accounts already today, particularly if you're one of the roughly 936 million daily active users of Facebook.
Just like most ordinary parts of life, though, there are a few ways that social media can get you into financial trouble if you're not careful. Even if you're a responsible sort of person who takes advantage of free credit score monitoring and tends to use credit cards sparingly, these hidden dangers of social networking might sneak up on you.
Hidden Danger #1: Social comparison bias
Social network users get to pick and choose the parts of their life they put on display for family, friends and members of the general public. Not surprisingly, most people choose to share mainly good news -- bragging about a promotion, details of a lavish birthday surprise, photos of new toys or exotic vacations. Good for them, right?
Why it's dangerous: Studies have shown that people tend to base how they think they're doing on how well they “compare” to other people, and reading a wall full of glittering updates from hundreds of acquaintances can make the details of your everyday life seem downright humdrum. Researchers at Cornell University discovered in a 2011 study that that when your self-esteem suffers, you're more likely to whip out your best credit card and buy something expensive to help you feel better. Whipping out that credit card comes at a price, literally. Data from credit bureau Equifax shows that in 2013 the average U.S. household had about $5,116 of credit card debt. Perhaps social comparison is putting an avoidable dent in our wallets.
Hidden Danger #2: Lost productivity and trouble at work
Practically every office workstation includes a computer that's networked to the Internet. That connectivity means you can plug into social media whenever we feel like it, which -- let's face it -- is most of the time. We aren’t just using social media to keep up with old friends anymore -- we are spending more time on social media to get news and insights too, which amplifies our distraction. Pew Research Center recently found that 63 percent of Facebook and Twitter users are getting their news from their respective sites. We click on one story, and before you know it, an hour or two have gone by and you've gotten virtually nothing done. Social media can be even more distracting from the job hunt than it is from tasks on the job, too, if you're unemployed.
Why it's dangerous: For one thing, you'll spend less time on work, which can become a problem if your overall productivity starts to suffer -- is Facebook stalking worth a pink slip? What's more, be aware that not only can potential employers pull your credit report, but nearly half of all companies surveyed in 2013 by London's Institute for Employment Studies report that applicants' social media use factored into their hiring decisions -- posting and liking in the middle of the day may come back to haunt you.
Hidden Danger #3: Personal information in the wrong hands
Although the major social networks have worked to improve their account safety measures in the last couple of years, it's still not uncommon that passwords get swiped and accounts get hijacked. If you're a heavy user of social media, or if you've ever posted actively on a personal blog, you've probably got all sorts of private information strewn throughout your various accounts. According to Pew Research Center, Facebook users are more trusting than other social media. We become more vulnerable each time we provide our email address, birth date, hometown or phone number; lower our privacy settings on social media, and click on redirecting links.
Why it's dangerous: You might be surprised just how easy it can be to spoof a digital identity. With just a few pieces of personal information, a would-be thief can follow a patchy trail from your Facebook account straight to your bank account. Not only that, but heavy users of social media may be inclined to miss the telltale signs of digital confidence tricks that pretend to be official communications from their social networks of choice.
Hidden Danger #4: Temptations everywhere
We are all guilty of pushing the “like” and “follow” button for some of our favorite retailers and deal sites on social media. We love being ‘in the know’ about a good deal. The trouble is, marketers know that we like getting a good deal, too. And that’s why they remind us over and over again about their great prices and sales. Constant exposure to how cheap a product is, or sale items that you may not have known were on sale previously make us impulsive.
Why it's dangerous: Temptations that play to our “I deserve this” thought process make it easy to overspend -- we try justifying our purchases because they’re not full price, but the real question is, would or should we have purchased the item in the first place? Groupon, one of the most popular deal sites, is valued at about $5 billion -- which means a lot of people, whether they can afford it or not, are taking advantage of the Groupon deals. It’s too easy to hit the one-click purchase and not really make the connection to how much we’ve spent. This style of shopping can wreck our budget. Before you saw that 50-percent-off massage, did you even think about going to get one?
How to stay out of harm's way
Fortunately, the hidden financial dangers of social media are unavoidable. Just keep in mind that these pitfalls are mainly a problem for people who are unaware of them, so you're halfway to avoiding them just by knowing that they're there.
Also, try to check your credit score as often as possible. Keeping fiscal fitness at the forefront of your mind can help you make better decisions with money, even in the face of social pressure.