This article was written on 24 Feb 2011, and is filled under Career Guidance, News & Trends.

Online Identity Crisis!

Written by current student and CORC student worker, Callan Rogers-Grazado, F08

If you are reading this, you probably have some idea of the notion that once something is posted on the internet, it never leaves.  What do people see when they search Google for your name?  Your online identity is growing increasingly important, as computer-savvy future employers can easily find information about you that you may not be keen on showing off.  Therefore, it is essential that you maintain an awareness of your online presence, work to highlight the positive content associated with you, and downplay the less-than-stellar.

You might be thinking, “Easier said than done,” which is true.  But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!  First, if you haven’t done so already, type your name in quotation marks (e.g. “John Smith”) into a search engine, such as Google, and see what it yields.  Are the results about you?  Do they portray you how you want to be seen, or not so much?  If you find a bunch of people who aren’t you but share your name, or things about you that you’d rather the world forget, there are many steps you can take to help remedy the situation, depending on the outcome you are seeking.

The first proactive step you can take if you are worried that the things you post online will become embarrassing and/or detrimental to your online identity, is to simply stop using your full name online!  Some options are creating a unique pseudonym, or abbreviating your last name.  On many websites for which you have already signed up (blogs, social networking sites, etc.) it is possible to log in and change your name.  But if you really want to try to escape the realms of social networks and blogs, it is usually possible to delete pages you’ve created and social networking accounts.  Despite the somewhat questionable name, the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine can help you remove yourself from many social networks entirely.

This approach, while allowing you to continue contributing what you want to the web, has some significant drawbacks.  First of all, no matter how careful you are, it is almost always possible to trace content back to its original source.  For example, even if you believe that you can say whatever you’d like because your real name is not directly attached to your Twitter account, it is likely that you will at some point include personal information that could potentially reveal your identity.  Be wise—always think before you post anything, and ask yourself if there is anyone who you would rather not see this.  If the answer is yes, perhaps it is worth reconsidering.

Another problem with trying to completely remove yourself from searches is that if nothing is linked to your real name, nobody who searches for you will be able to (easily) find the content you produce.  And if it’s good, respectable content, wouldn’t you want potential employers to see it?  Even more problematically, you may find it impossible to remove all instances of your name when someone searches for you—especially if you are mentioned on pages or in articles that you did not create. This brings us to the other approach, which is based on downplaying negative or irrelevant content by increasing the amount of relevant and potentially impressive information about you on the web.

Ways to do this include creating a blog and posting regular, unique and informative content that is related to your goals.  For example, if you are interested in film, you could write articles documenting the creative processes of yourself and others!  Social networking sites can also work to your advantage professionally, as long as you are conscious of the way you will be perceived by others, and the information you present them with.  Decide on the way you’d like to be perceived by others, and be consistent.

Remember, nothing on the web is ever permanently deleted.  It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from it and work to avoid similar ones in the future.  Here are some helpful links and tools that go into more detail on the subject, but make sure you think critically before diving in and following each step they provide:

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