We all have something to hide. Usually, it’s benign family or photobombed pics and then, in some cases, a miserable and dirty divorce battle bitterly played out online. Time is the objective archivist of that which we’ve shared online; perception and therefore judgment, however, resides with the reviewer of our public personas.
The vast majority of people have been online now for several years at the very least; interacting on such social media sites as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Some of us have fairly large, embedded digital footprints and others cast light personal shadows on the internet landscape but we are all there, in some detectable form.
Whether you are going for your first real job, seeking a post-divorce relationship or just realized that your kids can conduct an FBI-quality thorough background check on their parents, you’ve decided it’s time to clean up your online presence. Although the task may at first appear overwhelming, the job itself doesn’t have to be – and, some things that are out there you are going to simply have to learn to live with. So, let’s begin. (To make this effort manageable in light of our busy lives, we are presenting this information is two parts – a week apart – to allow our readers time to complete the suggested tasks.)
1. Search yourself.
First things first, pull up your public profile. It is now common practice among prospective employers to perform searches online when vetting job applicants. The information pulled up by search engines such as Google can be seen not only by you, but future bosses — and so if there is anything unprofessional out there, this will be the first glimpse they see of you. Run a search on your name (including maiden names) and see what appears. Also, conduct image searches, as they can link to websites or accounts you’ve long forgotten about. Understanding your basic digital footprint is the first step in taking control of it. By the numbers, run your self through:
(For the curious, while you can certainly look up friends, relatives and co-workers with the latter two personal data-collection services, if you wish them to remain as such, we suggest you just check your own info. Also, often the data on these sites and others like it can, and most often is, dated and limited. For your own review however, it serves the stated purposes in this article.)
2. Deactivate old social media accounts and check privacy settings.
MySpace (Yes, this dinosaur social site is still here, haunting us to eternity or the end of the Net – which ever comes first.), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ are social media websites that can be mined by potential employers for personal information. If privacy settings are not at their highest, this could mean viewers can access pictures, posts and status updates best kept within your private life.
One thing to remember is that the Web often forgets about context — and so Tweets can be misconstrued, events from years ago can end up hampering your prospects, and your profile may not show you to be the type of person a company would want to hire.
In relation to accounts you actively use, check your privacy settings.
For Facebook, click on account Settings through the top-right button, and then select Privacy from the menu on the left. You can then decide who can see what information is posted — and whether you can be looked up based on your email address, phone number or search engines. You can also use another handy tool from your profile page to see what others view, by selecting the ‘…’ button and choosing ‘View as..’.
Twitter users, click your profile avatar in the top right of the Twitter.com screen, and select ‘Settings.’ From this menu, you can make your profile private or change a range of basic account options.
If you want to be completely hidden on social media, use a different surname.
3. Hide others, or add false information
Honesty may not be the best policy if old social media accounts hold information you’d prefer to keep low-key. In addition, some services do not allow you to delete accounts — instead, they allow only for accounts to be “deactivated.” In these cases, consider changing your name, email address and uploading an innocuous profile picture — as well as deleting as much information as possible — before deactivation.
E.g., If you’ve conducted the above suggested Google, Bing, etc. search and found pictures linked to old accounts you’d rather not have displayed, hiding your accounts may help in eventual refreshes. It will take time for search engines to stop pulling up these images, but the sooner you tweak old accounts, the better.
4. Contact webmasters
If websites have posted public information about you, contacting webmasters may be the only option to remove this information. Send them an email or give them a call, and explain what, and why, you need something removed. If you are a member of the law enforcement community, most of these sites are very accommodating in removing identifying materials. If you have field a police report in any criminal matter, likewise, with a short, concise letter attached to the report, most web masters are very helpful and willing to err on the side of safety in removing or modifying your public data.
5. Unsubscribe from mailing lists
Mailing lists are an integral part of the digital trail leading back to you, and unsubscribing can help break these connections — as well as uncluttering your inbox.
A suggestion for future subscriptions: add an identifier middle initial to your subscriptions so that you can quickly determine subscription categories: e.g., Lina N. Maini = news subs such as WSJ, NYT, etc. This has seriously helped me identify, review and delete subscriptions in the past, rather than scour through each provider name and have to pop an email open to determine content. (The Washington Post is obviously a news source – ok, keep the dissent to a minimum – but Birchbox? I had completely forgotten that these are the wonderful folks who deliver my samples box – home products, beauty supplies, new foods on the market – each month. I’ve loved everything they’ve sent thus far. ).
Next week, we bring you the next and final five steps in repairing, if necessary, and managing your very public online profile.
(For those looking for professional reputation repair and management services – in which we delve into archival materials deeply buried but ultimately findable by dedicated, prying eyes – we do provide unique, tailored packages that are maintained in the strictest of confidentiality – as is all of our work.)
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.