There are no secrets on the Internet. What you tweet, comment, post or publish is permanent. And one click at a time, you’re creating a reputation for yourself online.
You didn’t have to suffer through the entire second presidential debate to discover the best part of it: Ken Bone.
Shortly after the debate’s conclusion, Bone’s likeness went viral. The Internet loved this undecided voter’s choice of attire, humble policy question and general good-natured demeanor. But days after the initial flurry of positive attention, Bone went viral again, but this time, for very different reasons.
Following the second debate, the media celebrated him as its rare bright spot, with headlines such as, “And the winner of the presidential debate is… Ken Bone” and “America needed a hero. Kenneth Bone answered the call”. Bone memes, many centering on his distinctive red sweater, were not far behind in taking over the Internet.
But opinions about the “debate sweetheart” quickly changed after Bone participated in an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, under an old alias that revealed Bone’s pre-fame crass and illegal confessions.
In his previous Reddit posts, he admitted to committing “felony insurance fraud”, stated the killing of Trayvon Martin was “legally justified”, was a regular on a forum about pregnant women in swimsuits, and admired hacked nude images of the actress Jennifer Lawrence.
The media darling’s quick fall from grace holds lessons for us all in managing our online identities.
Why is your online reputation so important?
Our lives are interconnected with the Internet, which means anybody can make a snap judgment on the type of person they perceive you to be, depending on what exists of you online. Prospective employers will Google your name and examine your social media profiles. Prospective online dates will, too. Basically, your future could be significantly impacted by what these prospects know or think about you.
Take the situation of Trevor Noah, the current host of The Daily Show. Last year, just 24 hours after he replaced Jon Stewart as host, old tweets resurfaced that revealed the comedian made anti-Semitic and sexist jokes. If those tweets had just come a day earlier, they may have cost Noah his position, and even though he survived the ensuing fallout, it certainly caused his reputation some harm.
How can you take control of your online identity? Here’s a step-by-step approach:
Search yourself to find out what exists. Search your name on multiple search engines, or run a background check on yourself. If a search engine like Google doesn’t give your targeted results on name alone, add additional identifying details like current or past organizations or your hometown to your search. You may have to do some digging, but you need to focus on finding anything that could be perceived as unfavorable: embarrassing photos, an angry rant you made, or anything that would be inappropriate or offensive for someone to see.
Clean up. There are services like our friend BrandYourself.com, that will help you change what others see about you online. But you can also do a cleanup yourself. Start with your own social media accounts, and don’t forget about old ones like MySpace that may still be online. Delete any unfavorable photos or comments you have made. Then reach out to friends who’ve tagged you in any ill-advised photos, and ask them to delete them. On Facebook, unless someone violates their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, the social network cannot remove the photo you’re tagged in. But you can ask Google to remove any personal information, images or videos that have been shared without your consent, from their search results. Keep in mind that news articles and court records in most cases cannot be deleted or altered.
Reestablish your reputation. Take control of what appears at the top of a Google search about you. Claim a personal domain name and personal website. Your own website will “usually float up to the top of Google hits”, giving you the ability to show yourself in the best light. If you manage a personal website, you can have more control over how you want to be seen; as well as “show off” to prospective employers.
Take control of your reputation with these tips. Always think twice before posting anything and treat people how you’d like to be treated. Oh, and don’t use the same username for a Reddit AMA if you have a history of questionable posts, bonehead!