Social media has undeniably become a crucial part of modern life.  From Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn, social networking sites have the power to connect friends and family around the world.

But they can also have dangerous side effects.

In this age of communication, it is more important than ever to monitor your behavior and appearance on social networking sites.  Whether it’s the incriminating pictures of drunken, late-night revelries or one too many curse words in your Tweets, you may not be putting your proverbial best foot forward online.

Your social networking profiles can shape others’ perceptions of you – including potential employers’.  Worst of all, once something is put on the Internet, the damage may be permanent.  Though it may seem trivial now, posting graphic details about college exploits could be embarrassing when you’re applying for jobs down the line (case in point:  the recent Duke PowerPoint incident).

A few essential steps must be taken to keep your online profiles appropriate:

-Keep it classy in photos.

Drinking is obviously illegal for those under the age of 21.  If you’re going to drink anyway, make sure it isn’t photographed and put online for all to see.  Even if you are of legal age, no employer wants to hire someone who has drunk-eye and/or is dancing on tables in every other photo. When friends are taking pictures, put down your drink or at least hold it out of sight of the camera.  In the event that someone snaps one too many pictures of you collapsed in a heap on the floor, detag the photos and politely beg your friend to remove the evidence ASAP.

And if that’s the case, it’s probably best to avoid drinking altogether.

-Monitor your Facebook wall.

Everyone has at least one friend with a tendency to post inappropriate comments on his or her wall.  Swear-word-ridden, substance-abuse-referencing posts may seem funny at the moment, but you may not be laughing if those quotes resurface later on.  Be careful about what you let others post on your wall.  Even more importantly, make sure that what you post on others’ walls isn’t something you’ll regret in the future.

-Watch your language.

It doesn’t look particularly professional to write Tweets or Facebook statuses involving illegal substances, sexual behavior, crude language, derogatory language, etc.  Think through what you want to say before you allow your hundreds – or thousands – of friends/followers to read it.

-Alter your privacy settings.

Protect your Tweets.  Limit what others can see on your Facebook profile, including pictures, wall posts and videos.  Be careful about who you friend on Facebook or who follows you on Twitter.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

-Georgia Cavanaugh