The Internet is Forever: Tips for Managing Your Online Identity

Recently, a study proved what most people already know: We are addicted to Facebook, and it has changed our lives. The internet is such a big part of our lives that what we post can affect our ability to find jobs and easily lead to identity theft. In a recent New York Times blog post, Michael Fertik, founder of ReputationDefender, and Paul Ohm, a law professor at the University of Colorado, answered readers’ questions about managing your online identity. Here are some helpful highlights from the Q&A for young adults:

Re: Facebook Photos

"Q. I am a rising college senior and am concerned that my Facebook photos (which chronicle my life since the prom) will come back to haunt me as I begin to seek employment. I have my privacy settings set so that only friends can see personal information and photos. How then can future employers uncover these pictures?Class of 2011

Mr. Ohm: If you’re using Facebook’s privacy settings properly (a big if, given the bewildering complexity of Facebook’s privacy controls) and if you remember to restrict access not only to the photos you post but also the photos posted by others in which you’ve been tagged, you’re probably not likely to be found by someone conducting a casual search.

As time goes by, however, keep up with the latest privacy protection techniques, as Facebook has a track record for changing the way it handles privacy. And even if you’ve mastered Facebook’s privacy controls, don’t forget that your friends can repost your photos onto the broader, more  searchable web. Might the media be partly to blame for this blurring of private and public, and if so, might they also be part of the solution to the problem of the web’s forgetting? If journalists (both mainstream reporters and bloggers) agreed not to publish stories about non-public Facebook status updates and photos, they could help establish a new norm of privacy. This small step could meaningfully improve privacy because the easiest way for a secret to slip from Facebook to Google is when someone republishes it on the web.

Alas, the trend seems to be heading in the opposite direction. It is becoming common to read reports about the “news” coming out of non-public Facebook status updates. Why is a Facebook status update news? And given how the simple act of republication carries private information into the public sphere, shouldn’t the media think about curtailing the practice?"

 

Re: Status Updates and Tweets

 

"Q. What are some guidelines for acceptable tweets and status updates to prevent them being used against you? Obviously, sexual, racial (even comedy) and political comments might be used against, but what are lesser-known employer red flags? — Jake Miller

Mr. Fertik: As far as exercising good judgment in posting on Twitter, always ask yourself if this is something your mother would mind seeing on the front page of The New York Times. In addition to your excellent suggestions, I’d recommend that people be especially careful with commentary about alcohol and drug use if they work in a highly regulated industry, perform commercial driving or handle cash at work. And try to be positive and respectful online; an employer is far more likely to hire a positive candidate than one who uses Twitter to complain about everything or to insult other companies."

 

Re: Search Engines

"Q. I am a medical student about to apply to residency positions. Is there any way to influence what results (and in what order) come up when someone Googles my name? — SAMS

Mr. Fertik: You are absolutely right that higher education and hiring managers will Google you, and that what they see will make a difference in your career. A recent Microsoft study found that 70 percent of hiring managers admitted rejecting candidates because of information they found by searching for the person’s name in a search engine.

Today, when every “life transaction” — hiring, dating, getting insurance, applying for school — is directly affected by a search engine, you must make sure that people who see your “online résumé” — effectively, the first page of a Google search for your name — see positive, truthful and highly relevant information about you.

It can be very difficult to move existing content up or down in a Google search, but there are some tricks that are worth a try in your situation. Try building more links to the most relevant content that you would like residency directors to see. In many cases, this will help bring that information to the top of a search. Or ask friends to link to the stronger content from their blogs and Twitter accounts. I believe you should have more control over your digital résumé. Invest the time necessary to build up your Google CV, since it is now the only CV that really counts."

Photo via mobilelocalsocial.com