Is It Time to Scrub Your Digital Identity?

You might have forgotten about that off-color joke you posted to your Facebook page four months ago, or that unfortunate photo from what started out as a quiet Friday night late last summer, or that expletive-laced tirade against a political candidate you posted to a popular blog two weeks ago. You might have forgotten but the Internet didn’t. Five or so years of social media saturation led by Facebook and Twitter and way too much over-sharing has created an online archive documenting much of the daily lives, thoughts, and misadventures of millions of Americans.  And everyone has a key to this archive—your family and friends, your students, their parents, school administrators, and any prospective employer. Someone who doesn’t know anything about you may get to know you through some of your more embarrassing or unsuitable posts. First impressions, including digital ones, can be hard to shake.

“There is a heightened awareness about the horror stories regarding the use of social media,” says Maria Anderson, an educator and technology blogger. “What is unfortunate about this is that it scares educators away. We need educators to be in theses spaces helping to teach youth how to communicate effectively and treat each other kindly.”

So the answer is not to wipe clean from the Internet anything and everything related to you and abandon it.  That’s overkill. But if you live and share a good part of your life online, you’re probably due for a spring-cleaning. And once that’s done, there are steps you can take to manage your content and avoid damaging your reputation.

Find Out What’s Out There

The first step to your digital house cleaning is to find out what’s out there about you. It might be painful but sit down, brace yourself, and key in your full name into a search engine, such as Google or Bing to find out what the Internet has on you. When evaluating your results, focus on the first three pages. People usually don’t bother to look beyond the few pages of Google search results. Once you know what is out there, you can make a plan to address it.

Start Scrubbing!

A good goal to set is to “take over” page 1 of search pages looking for information about you.  The best way to do a quick cleanup is to simply change your profile picture and perhaps your “about” info on your Facebook page.  If old posts or out of date information comes up, see if you can take it down or update it. Maybe someone you know posted embarrassing or personal content about you, so ask them to remove it. If you’re nervous about any other “digital dirt” showing up, add positive information to the Internet so that the positive results come up first.  By perhaps starting a blog and/or website, you can point employers to what you want them to know about you. If you’re a frequent commentator on websites and blogs, be aware that you generally have to log in through Facebook.  That means whatever you say can be traced back to you.  Check to see if you have made any comments that could be perceived as derogatory or inflammatory.

Update Your Privacy Settings

If you want to keep some of your personal information private, use the privacy settings on your online profiles. Still, things aren’t as private as they seem partly because sites such as Facebook and Google are constantly changing their privacy settings, which many users don’t bother to update.

Create and Manage Your Digital Brand

Once you’ve cleaned up your digital identity, be proactive and create your own digital brand. What do you want people to see when they search for you online?  It could be a digital portfolio of your work, a well-written, regularly updated blog or a simple online resume.

“The effort to curate your digital brand will help when it points them to a collection of professional information that paints you as a rational, hardworking, and professional person who cares about the success of students,” Andersen explains.

“Teachers should seek to cultivate this sort of digital identity.  If you aren’t creating it, then the rest of the world is doing it for you.”

Stay on Top of Things and Be Careful

Set up alerts via Google or some other service that will send you an e-mail when your name is mentioned in news stories, blogs, or videos. If you have a common name, add additional information like your school, town or city, and profession to the search description.

Even if you’ve completed a thorough makeover of your digital identity, however, unless you always think twice before you post, something can always come back and bite you.

“It doesn’t matter how private you think your Facebook settings are,” Andersen cautions. “It doesn’t matter how carefully you choose who to send that email rant to.  If you wouldn’t want it to be forwarded on to your colleagues, your students, or your parents, then don’t write it in a digital space.  Some topics are best left to an old-fashioned conversation.”

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Protect Those Passwords!

Creating and maintaining a secure password may not seem related to your social media life, but it is at the core of online security and privacy.  It may take a little time to complete the following steps, but it will certainly be much easier than dealing with an online security breach.  If your password is “123456″ change it immediately. It is the most common password and the easiest to crack. Do not use the same password or username for everything, instead think of a word or topic you can remember and use different combinations. Make sure your password includes capital letters, preferably in the middle, as well as numbers.