Depending on how involved we were in social media at a young age and the extent to which we employed anonymity online, our searchable, historical likeability could be held hostage by the choices we made; and that’s rarely a good thing. My 27 year old best friend has been trying desperately to get a picture of himself, covered in acne kissing the former love of his (19-year old) life, removed from the first Google Image Search result for his name. It’s not a particularly scary example, but considering how hard we work to present our social media profiles, our websites, our résumés, and ourselves in just the right way, any injury to our finely cultivated narrative can seriously damage our reputation. Social media, like any powerful tool, can be used for great benefit or harmUnfortunately, many modern computing and business trends are encouraging younger audiences to make all their little mistakes documented and searchable for future prospective employers, customers, and relationships. Now that web services can cheaply store data, they’re reluctant to delete anything you post, upload, or interact with. For advertising purposes, they try to tie your real name to their services, with some going so far as to deactivate your accounts if they think you’re not using your real name. 

So how do you protect yourself from yourself?

1. Understand the situation. You need to know how people can connect the dots and research you online. Know that any breadcrumbs you leave of personally identifiable information can probably be tied back to you. For example, imagine having an anonymous blog where you post a picture you took. If you happen to post that same image to a service your name is tied to, people will be able to reverse image search and connect you to that anonymous account. Even an uncommon turn of phrase could be all it takes.

2. Give yourself room to change. Before you publish anything to channels that bear your name, recognize that your opinions, beliefs, goals, and how you present yourself will likely change over time. Try to think ahead and limit what you post to things you’d want your mother to read out loud to her knitting club or what you’d want to see in the appendix of your biography after you become the president.

3. Screen before you sign. If there’s an online service I’m signing up for, I will always Google the service first. I research the organization or company that I am signing up for thoroughly before disclosing any personal information as a habit of privacy precaution.

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