Steps to Take to Manage Your Online Reputation

There are a wide variety of reasons why someone might need to remove content about themselves from the Internet, such as a faulty news item about an arrest that ended up being an innocent event, or compromising pictures a friend took that didn’t paint you in the best light. Despite the old adage that “nothing ever disappears from the Internet,” there are steps an individual can take to at least minimize some of the traffic associated with a name or account.

Whether it’s a news article, an unfortunate Facebook post, an ill-timed Tweet or worse, the first step is to find out about it before a potential employer or other person in power uncovers it for you. From time to time, it’s a good idea to engage in what was once known as the self-centered practice of “ego surfing,” which is to search for your name on popular Internet search engines. This should help you find any links or references to content that may not be the most uplifting.

Important note: parents whose children are old enough to use the Internet may also want to search for their children’s names periodically. Remember though, your kid is not always to blame, as his images or information can be distorted or misconstrued. So, even if you know your child has been taught about staying safe on the Internet, the posts may be “about” him, not “by” him. One parent who spoke up for this article discovered her daughter’s pageant photos were available for sale to the general public—and had been purchased many times by strangers—after she randomly searched for her daughter’s name and city.

Next, according to an article by Charlie Osborne for iGeneration, it’s a good idea to go back and look for your old social media accounts. Were you one of the early adopters of the now scorned MySpace? Your profile is still there, and while that might not be of interest to you, hackers and cyber bullies may be seeing them, as any pictures you uploaded back then are still floating around. Go hunt down those profiles that you might have forgotten about and make sure the content and the privacy settings—on old and current accounts, for that matter—are to your liking.

If there are old user accounts with unfortunate content on there, you can deactivate the account, but that still won’t erase it. If your original Facebook account from college has some content you might not be proud of and you want to get rid of it because your now a graduate and member of the workforce, Osborne suggests changing the user name and profile picture on the account so that it is less likely to be associated with you if someone finds it. It sounds a little shady, so you shouldn’t use an existing person’s image in place of your own, but there’s nothing wrong with a cute picture of a kitten playing piano.

Should you find content about you posted on websites or blogs, you can attempt to reach out to the Webmaster in charge of that site and state your case for removing the content. However, be warned that most users will tell you that this is a good way to get negative behavior ramped up. You risk offending the Webmaster about a post from four years ago, one that he may suddenly decide to start sharing again with a vengeance, just as retaliation for being asked to take it down. If the content violates copyright in some way, though, you can contact his host provider and have it removed for copyright infringement.

The European Union has already taken action to help citizens erase some of their flubs from constant public viewing via the World Wide Web, and it’s called the Right to be Forgotten law. Passed earlier this year, this law allows individuals to submit requests to search engines to remove incriminating content about them, under specific circumstances. While the law is not in place in the United States, there are supporters of the measure who say its time has come.

At the risk of sounding like it’s “too little, too late,” one of the best ways to protect your digital identity is to ensure that incriminating information isn’t published online in the first place. That may sound easier said than done, but by adopting good Internet sharing habits and not posting unfortunate content in the first place, you’ll have an easier time protecting your identity and your reputation in the digital age.