The Internet is an open book, and you’re in it. The rise of the almighty search engine rendered the line between public and private nearly nonexistent. Online reputation monitoring is a growing trend, for very good reason. Embarrassing pictures and outright slander are nothing new, but they are newly global. Like it or not someone could be “Googling” you right now. It might be a long-lost friend or family member, your boss, your neighbor, or your girlfriend’s father. Here are a few tips to make sure your online presence is presentable.
The internet is like a global fishbowl, and everything you upload or write online is visible to the world. Be careful what you upload, what you say, and even whose friend request you accept. Search for yourself regularly on the major search engines to see what’s out there about you. Put quotes around your name to narrow the results, and try different variations of your name. Don’t forget to check the web results as well as image results. If you something comes up in the results that you wouldn’t want your mother or your boss to see, take action. Delete old profiles, pictures, and accounts you no longer use. Contact website administrators to request that your comments or other information be removed. Unfortunately not all webmasters will respond, but you’d be surprised at what asking nicely can accomplish.
Create an alternate identity for when you want to post or participate online, but want to do so privately. Setup a brand new identity that only you (and those you trust) know about using a free account service like Gmail or Yahoo! The best way to manage your online reputation is to be very careful what you say and do online. The anonymity of a computer makes it easy to forget that the world can see what you write. UFOs and crop circles might be your thing, but that doesn’t mean you want your whole office to know it. Before you post a comment on your favorite alien discussion forum, remember to use a username and email address the office doesn’t know.
Even if you’re careful about what you say and do online, you can’t control what your friends and acquaintances say and do. If you’re a member of a group or organization, and you don’t want the outside world to know, talk to the group leaders. Find out if they will post pictures, members lists, or any other personal information online, and let them know your concerns. Tell your friends if you don’t want certain pictures posted, or anecdotes related online.
The only way to ensure that your Friday night foibles remain non-viral, is not to have them. Since embarrassing moments and quirky interests are inevitable parts of the human condition, there’s likely to be something out there that you wish remained hidden. Go Google yourself, setup an identity for private use, and always remember that the internet is a public arena with a global audience. Follow these steps and your online reputation will shine.