| THIS IS NOT A LEGAL DOCUMENT.
This information is not written by a lawyer, a paralegal, or
anyone associated in any way with a court, legal or government
For many young people now, there is a moment where they realize that their online activities, collectively, need to present a person that is worthy of being accepted into a particular university, worthy of employment, worthy of renting an apartment to, etc. But as they’ve grown up with social media, they probably have a vast virtual trail of photos and status updates that undermine that need.
What should you do when someone typing in your name and hometown into Google will generate links to photos and online rants that will turn off universities, potential employers, potential landlords - even potential friends?
Does it mean you have to be serious at all times online and never have fun again?
Do you have to completely delete your online activities from your youth and start over?
You will hear people say that whatever you post online is FOREVER, and that’s true, to a degree. But not always - you find this out when you desperately need an old version of a document or a video that you never downloaded to your computer, and it’s absolutely no where to be found online, not even via archive.org.
A better way to think about it: everything you have that has your name attached to it will probably always be online or on someone's computer somewhere. Before you panic at that thought, also realize that, the more information you have online, the more specific information is hard to find, and also realize that most people aren’t going to go looking for incriminating information about you, or be able to find such, unless you have made that information easy to find/access. You may not be able to scrub photos of yourself and other information entirely from the Internet, but you can make them MUCH harder to find.
Perhaps you passed notes in school, and your notes were for friends ONLY, and one day, a note was taken by a teacher or found by someone that isn't your friend - remember that humiliation? Remember that horror? That note was a publication, whether you realized it or not, and it became fair game the moment it was found by someone else. Courts take publications VERY seriously, even personal ones. Young people's diaries that they never intended to share with anyone have been used in court against them - because the court can view diaries as publications.
You're goal in your transition online from “I’m a young person having fun and who cares what anyone thinks about me?!” to “I’m worthy of acceptance to the university of my dreams/of being hired by the employer of my dreams/of getting this apartment to rent” is to make sure anything online that would reflect poorly on you as a potential employee, current employee, renter, event attendee, volunteer, etc., is hidden from or extremely hard to find by potential and current employers, co-workers, landlords, etc. Your goal in this transition is for a search of your name and city into Google or Bing or any search engine to generate information that paints you as a nice, competent person worthy of being accepted at a particular university, being hired by a company, etc., and for information that would counter that either to be completely hidden, or too hard to find because it’s buried under a sea of great info.
Start with your profile on LinkedIn. That’s your public résumé. Your LinkedIn profile should be a university or employer’s first stop online in getting to know you. It should list all of the jobs you’ve had (at least those that you are proud of), your volunteering activities (particularly your *accomplishments*), your successfully-completed degrees and certificates, and your club and association memberships. Make your LinkedIn profile public, and make sure it is detailed.
Next, you will need to change all of your current privacy settings on all social media channels you use - Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, and on and on. You may need to change your name on these profiles to a nickname, or a slight misspelling of your first and/or last name. You may need to create new media profiles for potential employers, universities, etc. (more about that later).
For Twitter, depending on what you have shared via such to date, you may want to change your Twitter profile such that your real name is not used. If your Twitter account is full of messages that would turn off a potential employer or university, change it so that you use a nickname, or just your first name with another word (Jayne Fabulous). This will make it much more difficult to find the things you have shared on Twitter using a search of your actual, full name. You may need to delete your Twitter account entirely and start over, depending on what you have shared via such. No matter what kind of Twitter account you have, you should NEVER use Twitter to ever say anything negative about your employer. If you want to use Twitter in a fully public way, where a search of your name and city WOULD bring up your tweets, you can create a second account with your real name (Twitter allows you to have multiple Twitter accounts, but you need a unique email address to be associated with each). Also, be careful with Twitter lists; if you maintain a public list called "women I think are hot," or "politics I like," that could be a turn-off to employers - make private those lists that reflect your politics or personal dating habits.
First, check your privacy settings - make sure all posts, including photos, can be seen by Facebook friends ONLY, by default. Make sure no one can tag you in a photo unless you approve it first.
Then, go to the page where all of your friends are listed, and put every single person on at least one “list” - a list that you create (do NOT use Facebook’s default lists, like “close friends”):
Is your Facebook page packed with so many status updates and photos that are already public, or already available to hundreds of Facebook friends, such that it would take weeks to go through them all and change their settings so that no potential employer could see them? Then you have two choices:
You can either re-invite all of your Facebook friends from your old account to the new account (be sure you tell them what you’ve done - otherwise, they won’t respond, thinking a spammer has duped your account), or, you can keep all your close friends on that first account, and ask just neighbors, professional colleagues, and anyone that shouldn’t be privy to your political rants, photos of you dancing on a bar, etc., to be on your new account (and delete them as friends from your old account). With two Facebook accounts, you are in violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service, and if you get caught, the company will force you to delete one of them - and if you have the exact same friends on both accounts, use the exact same name, have your hometown the same, and try to use the same email to be associated with both, you WILL be caught.
If you use your real name anywhere on a blog, it will be findable on Google, Bing, or any other search engine if someone looks for you based on your real name. If you don't want it to be associated with your real name, do not use your real name anywhere on the blog, including your account set up, and if your blog is your own (and not an employer's), do NOT use your workplace email address.
GooglePlus, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
I won’t go into details on how to change your privacy settings and your name use on GooglePlus, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. - it would take me too long. But you can adapt the aforementioned advice for all of those accounts.
Once you do all the aforementioned, wait three weeks, and then do searches on Google and Bing of your name and your city. What do you see? Have a colleague who is NOT your friend on Facebook to login to their Facebook account with you sitting by their side, and have them look at your profile - what do you see? That will tell you what else you need to do to hide inappropriate material from potential employers, the university you want to attend, etc.
What should you post publicly?
Start thinking about what kind of image of yourself you want to be public, that could be seen by anyone. Good things to post publicly on Facebook and other social media, that reflect well on you:
Also see this blog, Why You SHOULD Separate Your Personal Life & Professional Life Online
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