Managing your online footprint

I’m not talking about recycling and I’m definitely not talking about shoe size.

Your online footprint is the scope of your digital reputation. It includes every blog, post, comment, profile and picture tagged of you on Facebook. We create permanent files chronicling all of our thoughts, purchases and impulsive decisions. In the past, vicious rumors and embarrassing moments could crop up on isolated bathroom walls and then disappear. Today, hurtful comments appear to a much broader online audience and can’t be removed with paint or nail polish remover.

Kevin Colvin

What’s the worst that could happen? Well, for example, you could be Kevin Colvin. Colvin, an intern at Anglo Irish Bank, sent his boss an apologetic email explaining that he must miss work and travel to New York on Halloween due to a family emergency. Unfortunately, he posted a picture of himself at a Halloween party hours later, complete with a fairy godmother costume and drag makeup. Colvin’s boss not only forwarded the picture and pathetic email to his entire office, but Colvin’s story spread across the entire Internet, making an appearance on major broadcast news networks.  Now, if you Google “Kevin Colvin,” the first hit details this embarrassing story.

This is not an ideal situation considering a recent study by Career Rocketeer found that more than half of HR professionals and hiring managers will Google perspective candidates at some point during the hiring process. To go even further, 46% of those said that they eliminated candidates based on what they found online.

What should we do about it? Here are a few suggestions for cleaning up your digital footprint:

  • Remove contact information from your online profiles. There are too many people who can manipulate this information to your disadvantage.
  • If you can’t say something nice, at least say it to someone’s face. Rash decisions made in anger should stay as far away from your keyboard as possible.
  • Be cautious about whom you trust. Think twice before you send intimate photos of information, even in private emails. Anything that is considered “private” can be made public.
  • Be smart with your phone. Be careful who you give your number to and how you use GPS and other technologies that can pinpoint your physical location.
  • Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t want to be seen doing in public.
  • Monitor all photos that are tagged of you in social networks. Remove anything that looks suspicious, even if it is just the people around you who look sketchy.
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