Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Friday, 7 December 2012

Don't assume that your private Twitter account is all that private

by @JoBrodie

You can protect your tweets (lock your account) by visiting the settings page, which can be found here: and put a tick next to 'Tweet privacy' which looks like this.

If selected, only those you approve will receive your Tweets. Your future Tweets will not be available publicly. Tweets posted previously may still be publicly visible in some places. Learn more.

Note: ticking the box in the image above does NOT affect your Twitter privacy, you need to do this on your own Twitter account. Go to to do this (& log in)

Once you've done that then people who aren't following you cannot see your timeline without your permission. You'll have a little lock symbol next to your name and people have to send a request to follow you.

However I don't think any system is perfect and from looking at the comments on a similar post (about blocking people) I wondered if this might be giving people a false sense of security (or privacy).

There are several ways in which people can read directly, or at least work out, what's in your tweets.

1. Although Twitter makes it harder for someone to retweet a locked account (the 'Retweet' button doesn't work) this can't stop someone from copying the text manually and reposting it. If you think someone reading your timeline might do this (without your permission) then your tweets aren't perfectly private.

2. Anything that is visible on the screen of a device can be captured by my making a screenshot* - this can then be posted as an image accompanying a tweet. This also includes anything written on a private Facebook page or ANY system. If you can see it on your screen you can show it to someone else.

3. If you've ever heard someone talking on a phone you're hearing just one side of the conversation but you can usually work out what the person they're talking to might be saying, from how they respond. It's possible to search for someone's name on Twitter, or their @mentions, and see what people say to them even if you can't see what they say.

Even without a conversation I might give away what you're planning to do tonight if I talk about meeting in Ye Olde Pubbe at 7.30 and mention you and a couple of other people we're meeting. Someone else watching might reasonably assume that you might be at the pub too.

* How to make a screenshot / take a 'photo' of your screen
Simultaneously press the on/off button at the top and the home button at the bottom, the screen is then saved as an image to your cameraroll.

Press the PrtScr button which is usually somewhere to the top right of your keyboard, you may need to use the Function (Fn) key to activate it. The image is stored temporarily in your clipboard which is generally hidden, but you can view and edit the image by pasting it (Ctrl+V) into Paint / Paintbrush.

If you just want to copy the currently active window use Alt+PrtScrn (thanks to @zeno001 for pointing that one out!)

To take a copy of the entire screen use Ctrl+Command+Shift+3 (you can then paste it somewhere using Command+V) but if you want to save it as a picture file on the desktop remove the Ctrl bit, ie Command+Shift+3.

To select just a bit of the page to copy use either Ctrl+Command+Shift+4, or to save to desktop use Command+Shift+4.

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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).