Managing Your Digital Identity on Social Media Sites

Social media sites are designed for sharing information such as who and where you are and what you're doing and thinking. You can connect with friends and family, re-connect with old classmates and co-workers, or find new groups with interests common to your own.

This all makes for a fun experience and great entertainment, but think twice about what you want -and don't want -exposed to anyone on the World Wide Web.

Think about it. Every public update sent via Twitter from anywhere in the world 24/7 can be instantly indexed and found in real-time search. Comments or pictures on Facebook or My Space can appear in Google or other search engines. This speed and visibility creates plenty of opportunity to share, yes, but also to embarrass yourself or others, jeopardize your employment or worse still, compromise your safety or your identity. Unfortunately, once it's out, you often cannot pull it back.

You can enjoy social media sites and stay safe. Ultimately though, it's up to you to manage your digital identity on social media Web sites. You must use good judgment about what you post and learn how you protect it. Here are some good practices to get you started. A lot of examples are from Facebook, in part because of its great popularity, but also because it gives you terrific control over your digital identity information.

Review and use privacy settings.
Privacy settings control how visible your information and pictures are on the site as well as on search engines, and how they are shared. Every site allows you to choose your privacy settings. Decide how visible you want your contact and profile information, photos, videos and postings to be, and then take the time to learn how to set the right level of control. At Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for example, the settings menu is right between your name and the logout button at the top right. At StumbleUpon, the privacy setting is at the bottom under "Your Profile/Account Preferences." All sites have a link to a "Privacy" page that explains how your information is used and provides tips on staying safe. Also familiarize yourself with the site's policies about information you post. Generally speaking, by using a site, you are giving them a license, or right, to use any information you post subject to your privacy and application settings.

Decide how searchable you want to be.
Search is an important part of social media and is always part of the site. Do you want to be found by a high school or college friend who is looking for you? Or is it more important to you to keep that private? It's best to make it a conscious choice and set up your profile the way you want, rather than leave it to the default settings. The default is usually that some of your profile information, like your name and main photo, can be searched on the site and in Google or other search tools as well.

What you decide is also based on why you are at the social network. If it is a professional networking site like LinkedIn or you are job hunting, you will make different choices than if you are primarily interested in socializing with your good friends and family. If you want a smaller, more closed group, consider using a more focused networking tool like Ning or Meetup.
Here's how to change your search and visibility settings. At Facebook for example, go to the Search Privacy Settings Page. There, you can control how visible you are on Google and other search engines. If you want to be found, it's desirable to make your search profile visible. If not, you may turn off your public search listing by unchecking the box, "Create a public search listing for me and submit it for search engine indexing," as pictured in the image below. You can also control what people can see when they find you through search but are not your "friend."

Configure your tweet settings.
You can restrict tweet delivery to those in your circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. If you want to keep your tweets private, following these steps:

  1. Log into
  2. Click "Settings" in the upper right corner of the screen.
  3. Under the "Account" tab, check "Protect my updates."
  4. Click the "Save" button.

By doing so, you remove your tweets from the "public timeline" and allow them to be viewed only by those followers you approve.

Keep all tagged photos private.
Tagging is a feature that allows you to associate your friends' names with their pictures. How do you prevent a tagged photo or video from showing up in all of your friends' news feeds? Go to your Profile Privacy Page and change the setting for "Photos Tagged of You." Select the "Customize" option and when the dialog box pops up, choose "Only Me" and "None of My Networks" as shown in the image below. Don't forget about your photo albums. You'll need to fine-tune your settings to make them private on an album-by-album basis. If you'd like to make tagged photos visible to certain users you can choose to add them in the box under the "Some Friends" option. In the box that displays after you select "Some Friends" you can type either individual friends or friend lists.

Don't share information that can help people steal your identity or locate you.
Be very cautious about posting and sharing personal information. Use common sense. Would you put a sign on your front door that said you were away for the weekend? Here are three tips:

  1. Never share your password with anyone, nor your Social Security number (including the last four digits), birth date, home address, phone number (a business phone can be an exception) and state where you were born.
  2. Don't put your full resume online, or if you must, take it down when you have found employment.
  3. Protect your shared secrets. As a security measure, you know how your bank may ask you one or two questions for which only you would know the answers? It might be your pet's name or mother's maiden name. The bank calls these "shared secrets." The idea is you're telling them something about yourself that others don't know. The answers are used to prove it's you if you need to reset your password or change your home or mobile phone number. But if someone is trying to steal your identity, you want to make sure they can't find the answers on your social media pages. For example, did you post a picture with your pet's name on your Facebook page? Does your mother's maiden name appear on your Wall? You don't want to set yourself up as an easy target for identity theft, so avoid displaying clues that could help someone figure out your shared secrets.

Check into opt-out options with advertisers and third parties.
The use of your information and photos in social media site ads are another consideration. Facebook's own ads for example, can use your name or profile photo (but not other posted pictures), but only with your confirmed friends. If you use Facebook, you've probably seen these ads such as, "Susan uses polls" or "Peggy is a fan of this application." That may not bother you, but to opt-out, click on "Settings" at the top right. Select "Privacy," "News Feed and Wall" then the "Facebook Ads" tab. In the drop down box, select "No One" and save your changes.

Summing Up:Recommended Practices for Managing Your Digital Identity on Social Media Sites

  1. Review and use privacy settings. Decide how visible you want your contact and profile information, photos, videos and postings to be, and then take the time to learn how to set the right level of control.
  2. Decide how searchable you want to be. It's best to make it a conscious choice and set up your profile the way you want, rather than leave it to the default settings.
  3. Configure your tweet settings. You can restrict tweet delivery to those in your circle of friends or, by default, allow open access.
  4. Keep all tagged photos private. If you'd like to make tagged (named) photos visible to certain users you can choose to add them in the box under the "Some Friends" option.
  5. Don't share information that can help people steal your identity or locate you. Exercise good judgment when posting and sharing personal information.
  6. Check into your ability to opt-out with advertisers and third parties.

For more information, see these related tips on
Who owns my information on a social media site? What can be done with it?
How do I keep my personal information private among my friends on social networking sites?
Which are the top social media sites?
How do I know if I can trust a Web site?

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