If you don’t show up on a Google search, do you really exist? As lines continue to blur between cyberculture and “the real world, ” the answer, in all too many situations, is “no.” And what that search reveals can make – or break – lives on many levels. Whether you’re building a business brand or just trying to get a personal loan, its essential to clean up the ‘digital dirt’ trailing your online identity.
Your Profile is You
In a recent bank fraud lawsuit, a court ruling established that for legal purposes, a person’s online identity is equivalent to their real one. And in many situations, that online self is the first one that people encounter. Employers Google job applicants. Lenders check out the social media activity of loan seekers. Singles Google potential dates for hints of bad behavior. In an age of widespread sharing of information, anybody can find out anything with the click of a mouse.
Your Digital Footprint
Internet marketers and cybersecurity experts use the term “digital footprint” to describe an individual’s presence across various platforms online. That includes everything from a basic Facebook profile to business networks like LinkedIn and even public records, which are easily available to any searcher who wants to find out if you’ve ever been arrested or where you lived in high school.
The more active you are in cyberspace the wider your digital footprint. It includes everything you’ve ever done online, including sites you signed up for and forgot about, interests you had and then abandoned, or pictures posted from other times in your life. And all these things can come back to haunt you.
Cleaning Up the Dirt
Cybersecurity experts recommend doing a periodic review of your online “brand” every so often – especially if you’re trying to get a mortgage or a job, or start a business. There are two kinds of digital dirt to look for. There’s the kind you post yourself, in reckless posts or tweets, or unwise images of things like drunken parties. And then there’s the kind posted by others: videos, photos and content that –either cluelessly or with malicious intent – paints you in a less than flattering light, or in the form of negative comments or reviews.
Take control of the situation, as Jason Hartman advises. Find out what’s out there with your name on it. If you posted it, get rid of it. If others did, that might be a trickier issue. Experts suggest asking them to remove it – or to rehabilitate the pieces you do control enough to offset it if they won’t. Close unused or dormant accents on sites you don’t use or haven’t visited in a long while.
More than that, decide what kind of identity you want to have – and then take steps to create it. Rewrite profiles to reflect what you want to be known for, or get your own website to reflect the identity you want people to know.
Life online is an open book – and anyone can read it. And because so much of our lives depend on what can be found there, it’s becoming more and more important to be a diligent editor. (Top image:Flickr/cooperweb)
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