The need to manage your online identity is a relatively new phenomenon, but within the last two decades, it has become increasingly important. Human beings have always been affected by their reputations within society, but now there are many layers of additional considerations; what sorts of information are strangers able to find out about me, what can acquaintances or business associates find and what do I want to share with my friends and family? As is so often the case, technology is moving faster than society’s adaptation to it and the result is that each individual is left to navigate the management of their personal information and reputation on their own. So, what are the important things to keep in mind when trying to manage your online footprint?

Is Your Facebook Showing?—Becoming familiar with and proficient in editing your Facebook privacy settings is an instrumental step in managing what information is available about you online. Some people have a tendency to post about everything imaginable, so it is important to ask yourself “Is what I’m posting something that I would be comfortable with a casual acquaintance seeing? What about a potential employer? A loan officer? A college admissions worker?”  Facebook has intricate layers of privacy settings, customizable to control what is accessible to different groups, categories of people and even individual “friends.” A new feature, called “View as” will also allow users to see their profiles as members of the general public would see it. Once you know what information is visible on your page, you can then enter your privacy settings and adjust them to control who sees what.

The Imaginary Ball—You’ve probably heard before that nothing is ever really gone from the internet; once something is published and out on the network, we lose our control over it and it can conceivably last forever. Sending information online is a lot like throwing an imaginary ball—half way between you and the person catching it, it will transform in midair and you will no longer be able to dictate how it looks. It’s important to be conscious of the fact that anyone can potentially find and intercept the information you send online and change it to suit their own purposes. People with lax privacy settings on their social media accounts have been shocked to discover their likenesses being used in advertisements, pictures being used for fake dating profiles, or entire fake accounts that mirror their social media presence under false names.

Do You Get Results?—Almost everyone with an internet connection has probably “Googled” themselves at one point or another. This has become such a common cultural phenomenon that it has its own term of art, along with an accompanying Wikipedia entry: “Ego Surfing.” While the term may seem a touch pejorative, it is a good idea to periodically search for your own name in order to determine what others might find if they do the same.

Keeping It Clean—In Europe, courts have established “The Right to Be Forgotten” as a universal human right. This means that if publicly available information about somebody is outdated, detrimental and no longer serves the public good, that person can petition search providers to have those search results deleted from their algorithms. An example of this would be someone who is currently in good financial standing, but when you search for their name you find bankruptcy notices from 20 years prior. In the United States, courts have been less bullish on the Right to be Forgotten, but you can help the internet forget you by deleting old social media accounts, websites or email addresses that you no longer use.

Keep Your Accounts Secure—Almost everyone has encountered a situation where a friend begins sending odd group messages to everyone on their friend list or address book. When a social media account gets hacked, the results can be a very sudden and personal sense of panic. Logging on to Facebook to discover your posts are suddenly in another language or worse, finding out that you are locked out entirely from your account is a worst-case scenario, but it happens to more people than you might think. The best way to avoid this is to keep your account safe secure by regularly changing your login credentials and using strong, unique passwords. It is also a good idea to refrain from logging in to social media or email accounts on public devices or networks.

The digital world provides another layer of complication to the concepts of memory and reputation within society. Constantly obsessing about what information about you is available online is not optimal, but remaining wholly unaware and inattentive to your online footprint is not a good idea either. As with so many aspects of modern life, the answer lies somewhere around a happy medium. Of course, you’re not in this alone—if you ever need assistance with the technical aspects of managing your online footprint, you can always call the techs at Mankato Computer Repair.