Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn encourage Canadians to share their opinions and life events with friends, family and colleagues over the Internet. But sharing too much on social media exposes you to the possibility of identity theft, harassment and even career disaster. Follow these three steps to protect yourself when using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

1. Get to know your social media options

Each social media site has its own, characteristic properties and functions. It’s important to know and understand them before using each site. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all require registration to become a user.

  • Facebook lets you create a profile, add friends, post photos and videos, share thoughts, create events and groups, and more.
  • Twitter enables you to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences within 140-character “tweets.” You can subscribe to other people’s streams of tweets, which is called "following," and in return people can follow you. Your profile consists of your picture, background image, description and an archive of your tweets.
  • LinkedIn is a professional network on which you build your professional identity by creating a profile and multiplying your connections. Job-seekers use it to find jobs, and employers use it to search for potential candidates and develop sales leads.

2. Control your privacy settings

Although you may think you’ve done everything you can to protect yourself online, many sites are constantly updating and changing their capabilities, privacy policies and settings. By updating your privacy settings regularly, you can prevent your content from being available to anyone and everyone.

  • Facebook has several privacy settings you need to look at closely to make sure they all meet your restriction needs. Each setting determines how secure your account is. It’s up to you how public you would like your profile to be. Check out:
    • Privacy settings and tools: Who can see my stuff? Who can contact me? Who can look me up?
    • Timeline and tagging: Who can add things to my timeline? Who can see things on my timeline? How can I manage tags and tagging suggestions from other people?
  • Twitter makes it simpler to manage your privacy settings than Facebook and LinkedIn do, since they’re all in one place. Once you’re on your settings page, simply click “Security and privacy” to manage your settings as you see fit. Remember: If you want your tweets to be “private” (meaning no one can see them but your followers), you need to click the box that says “Protect my Tweets.” If you leave this option open, anyone searching with hash tags or key phrases will be able to see your tweets.
  • LinkedIn has a number of settings to manage, ranging from your photo availability, to what people see when they view your profile. Since this is a business networking site, employers often look to LinkedIn for information about you. Make sure your settings are set up according to your comfort level and take the time to go through every option for protection.

3. Manage your images/photos

You may have heard the saying, "Once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever." Be aware that posting questionable photos on any social media site could result in being passed over in a job competition, or even losing your current job. Even though you may delete the image, it could be archived somewhere online. For this reason, never post a photo or image that you wouldn't be comfortable with everyone viewing. Although you may be able to control who can see your profile picture on Facebook, a cover photo (the large banner across the top of your timeline page) does not have any privacy settings.

Privacy settings have other uses, too. “If you are receiving unsolicited messages, you may block the sender using your privacy settings,” notes the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, a law and technology clinic based at University of Ottawa. “It is also a good idea to notify your social networking provider of any threatening or suspicious behaviour that you may encounter.”

Always be cautious and aware of what the Internet and social media sites can do. Here’s a simple rule to follow: If you wouldn't feel comfortable with everyone in the world viewing a picture or message, don't post it!