The phrase “digital footprint” might not mean much to you right now, but it should. Digital or viral footprint refers to the mass of content on the Internet that can be linked to you and, therefore, located by anyone doing a search on you. The list of possible places for content to be visible is seemingly endless: your wedding video on YouTube, an article mentioning your car accident, spring break photos you might want to forget about… the list goes on. And, most likely, this content will be accessed at some point in your life by an outside source doing an assessment of your character.
A number of user content-based websites have become useful instruments in hiring, making decisions on school admissions, dating choices, purchasing and a number of other important arenas. In fact, CareerBuilder reports that 37% of employers are using social media searches when considering candidates. Facebook posts and Tweets, for example, can now also be used in criminal courts. Simply put, the Internet has a memory, and it never forgets. That can make anything mentioning an individual very important.
More sites are offering stringent privacy settings that allow people to keep their profiles private, or to hide personal information. However useful, and important, these settings are, they don’t do anything to help what you might have already posted.
With so much of our information in so many places online, can we do anything to take care of or clean up our digital footprints?
There are two general areas you’ll want to look when it comes to your viral footprint: the past and the future.
Out with the old: Given that it is the world’s biggest search engine, Google is a great place to start when assessing and fixing your digital footprint. Google yourself and see what comes up. Don’t like something you see? Check out this recent CNET article for instructions to remove unwanted content from Google. This can be a great tool, but remember that this only removes cached content—not live content—from Google search results. It does not remove the actual page from the web. Google also offers services and tools to track and manage reputations, including removal of objectionable content. If you find something on a website about you that you don’t like, directly contact the webmaster and ask for it to be removed.
In with the new: Judging good content from bad isn’t always as easy as it would seem. Companies such asReputation.com, Veribo and ViralLock are taking new approaches to online reputations. ViralLock, for instance, performs extensive evaluations of various websites for their clients. Then, the experts at ViralLock provide recommendations and continued monitoring to ensure that a young person’s viral footprint reflects what the person wants it to and showcases their good characteristics.
Here are some tips to ensure that your digital footprint is worth seeing:
- Remember our simple rule of thumb: only post content that you would be ok with showing to your grandmother.
- Ask before you tag: remind friends and family to be careful when tagging you in photos, or consider asking them not to tag you at all.
- Follow your gut: if it seems like a bad idea to post a piece of information, it probably is.
- Own your own privacy: keep your privacy settings up to date and maintain good password security for all the sites you use to ensure nothing illicit is posted using your account.
So next time you post, remember that good online hygiene is essential to keeping your reputation clean and your digital footprints worth following.