The internet has become very personal lately. It used to be that only popular or famous topics, people, places, and businesses had dedicated space online. Now we all have the opportunity to carve out our own unique spaces but its boundaries are becoming increasingly transparent.
There is a lot of information about each of us online. Your statistics on your high school varsity sports team? Yep. Attend a conference or participate in a summer program? Probably. Definitely all of our social media pages. I have come to terms with the fact that Google could write a turn-by-turn biography on me if they wanted. Most of these fall under the benign or harmless category for most young professionals who keep a mindful tab on their online privacy but sometimes things pop up that are out of our control.
While writing this post I Googled my name for fun (try this, you might be surprised what comes up). I found that some one with my name, 25 years old, and even with similar facial hard is listed on mugshots.com and was arrested for a DUI violation in Utah this past summer. Even though it has nothing to do with me, it can still negatively affect me if anyone confused the two of us.
There are a few schools of thought on the topic of to how to manage our online persona:
1) Try to become on online ghost. Leave no traces of your activities, profiles, anything. This might work in some situations and we all know the no-facebook-page friends who live disconnected lives… and it sounds great! However, there is great value in these networks for social as well as professional reasons. Also, leaving nothing online about yourself leaves the web as an open playground for your name and image. By not adding anything to the conversation, it is completely out of your hands. That brings me to my preferred school of thought.
2) Own and control your online conversation. Instead of leaving your image to chance, take ownership of it. This is one of my reasons for maintaining a blog linked directly to me, to control and shape my online conversation how I see fit and not letting someone else dictate it for me. It sounds weird, but our name is a product. A brand that has value. We have to be our own marketing department and public relations team.
When someone searches for me, I want them to find me! I would much rather they find the UMass graduate, chemical engineer with a blogging and wood working hobby rather than the Utah DUI guy. We will all be subjected to judgement based on our digital self at some point or another. Imagine in the future that you are interviewing for the position of your life but the company finds a racist tweet you sent out years ago and you lose that opportunity. Or thinks you were arrested for a DUI in Utah and passes your resume over. Our digital first impressions could matter more than we would like it to.
This is our reality in this information era. We see this in sports news too often where an owner or staff member loses their job because of an off-color comment they made. Remember how the internet is becoming much more personal? And it used to be only prominent figures who had to deal with level of scrutiny? Someday we too will have to deal with the bright internet-of-everything spotlight. Keeping a handle on your online presence can only help.