Anyone who has conducted a Google search has established a digital footprint. And especially now, when what you search for is no longer just held on the history in your own “C” drive. It is held out there and often used to market to you personally. For those who are tech savvy, your searches can be found.

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Now imagine you have one or more email accounts and several social media accounts. Imagine too that you have commented on the social media accounts of others, participated in conversations on blogs, written reviews or comments about products or companies on Yelp or some other similar site. The ripples just keep moving outward. Understand too that you have been online for many years, and there is absolutely no way that you can remember all that you have done that has left even a tiny footprint.

Why You May Want to Dig into Your Footprint and Clean It Up

You have changed since you first entered the digital world. Consider a couple of scenarios:

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  1. You once had a MySpace account, and you were a young teen, commiserating with others with whom you would never associate person-to-person. You engaged in some pretty raucous conversations, used some typically-teen language to seem more mature than you were, and so forth. You never deleted that account even though you moved on – mistake – it’s there.
  2. You went through a few rough patches in years’ past, and you were “out there” with lots of emotion. You may have gone on a few tirades; you may have “trashed” others; you may have discussed sessions with your therapist. All of these things still exist in cyberspace.
  3. Your college years were great fun, and you posted pictures all over social media to prove it. That may have been years ago, but they are still there, and someone who digs will find them. Employers hire companies like CheckThem.com to run serious background checks that go way back. Why? Because they do not want to be embarrassed someday by what you did. We are way past just the normal criminal background check these days, and deep digging and checking backgrounds has become the business of tech wizards.

What You Can Do to Clean It Up

Here are some very specific steps you can take to clean up as much as possible.

Run Your Own Search on Yourself

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There are important things to do here:

  • Search for yourself on multiple search engines, not just Google
  • Do not use your own browser to do this. Borrow a friend’s computer and conduct your search there.
  • Search for both text and images.

Once you see what is there, are there thing you want removed? Here are your two options:

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  • If you know the person responsible for the item, you can contact that individual directly and ask them to take it down.
  • If the item comes from a site the owner of which you do not know, you can still contact the owner and ask that it be removed. You don’t get what you don’t ask for. And be pleasant and diplomatic when you make that request.
  • You may find that deleted items are still showing up for a while. When the search engines update, they will be gone.
  • You can also contact search engine administrators directly to have things removed. There is an established process for Google, for both text and images. And both Bing and DuckDuckGo have feedback forms you can use to make these requests.

To continue to manage your search results, conduct a search periodically.

Facebook – It’s a Bit More Complicated

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You want to begin with your current Privacy Settings to control who sees anything from this moment forward. For maximum privacy, you can set your account to “friends only.” Here are the other things you can do. Facebook changes its privacy settings often, so check yours often. The default setting for Facebook privacy is “public.” However you may change it. Facebook will walk you through the steps if you are not sure what to do. You can also create a custom list that might include certain friends, business acquaintances, etc.

Editing Your Past Activity on Facebook

Here you need to go into your activity log and edit your privacy settings for anything you have posted in the past. Here are your steps:

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  • Open your activity and click on Privacy Shortcuts (Who Can See My Stuff?)
  • On the drop-down menu, choose Activity Log
  • You can review each activity and use two options from the drop-down, to change your privacy settings.

This can be a long process if you have been on Facebook for several years. But, if you have stuff that is potentially embarrassing, you need to take the time to do it.

Your other option is to change the privacy settings of all of your past activity in one fell swoop. This is the “nuclear option,” in that every past post will be edited to the new settings you set. In the Privacy Settings, you can choose “Limit the Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline to Now,” and with one click of your mouse, the privacy settings are changed.

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Twitter and LinkedIn

Twitter is probably the most public of all social media platforms. If you use your real name as your “handle,” then you are easily found. But, you can change your account to private very easily. But those users to whom you do allow access can obviously quote you – they just can’t retweet you. So, the best advice is to be very careful about what you post on Twitter.

If you have a LinkedIn profile, it will be the first thing that shows up on a Google search. Anything you post on this platform must be professional. The most important thing you can do is to keep your profile updated with the best public persona you can project.

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Monitoring your social media accounts and particularly your privacy settings must be an on-going effort.

A Personal or Professional Blog

If you have a somewhat sketchy online history, some of which you cannot clean up via generic searches, one thing you can do is start a blog. If you begin one and begin posting every day, it will get noticed and picked up. It will also show up on searches by your name. Whether it is personal, because you want to improve your reputation or professional, because you want potential customers/clients to see you as an expert and a professional, getting a blog up and running is important.

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If you already have a personal blog and you have used it to vent or be very partisan, go through that blog and delete posts that others might find offensive. And dump any bad language.

Dump All Old (or Not) Social Media Accounts

This was already mentioned but is worth mentioning again. If you have an old My Space or Bebo account, just delete them. You were young and not very discriminating, so, even if it was a long time ago, why give anyone any ammunition.

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Cross Reference Yourself via Your Email Accounts

Here’s what you may find. You may find sites to which you have provided your email address. Now this is really digging deep if someone wants to know a lot of detail about you, but it does happen. Use a different computer and search by your email addresses. If you have old email addresses, delete them.

You Are a Big Person Now – Your Internet Presence Should Reflect That

At this point in your life, you may be satisfied with your values, your politics, your language, your friends, etc. But people do evolve, mature, and change. There may come a time when you are embarrassed by some of the things you posted or wrote; you may be embarrassed by some of the sites you visited and spent a lot of time on, and if you commented or provided your email, you are “out there.”

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It is much easier to prevent embarrassment than it is to clean it up. Here are some things to do when you are emotional, angry or frustrated.

  • Do not post anything; do not write a blog post; do not comment on someone else’s social media post, no matter how angry you are right now. Take a deep breath and decide that you will post nothing for 24 hours. Chances are you will not want to post what you originally wanted to.
  • Every time you prepare to write or post something, ask yourself an important question: Will I be happy to read my words 10 years from now? Will they be appropriate for my current career goals?
  • Do write and share interesting stuff – even some humor and entertainment, if it will not be offensive to any demographic.
  • Try to be a bit inspirational with some of the things you write and post. People appreciate the fact that a person reflects upon things beyond just the personal.
  • Monitor your online presence regularly, through search engines and social media.