This Ain't 1984....Yet, It Is

 You often hear about people Googling a man or woman they just met in order to get a little free background on them; make sure they're not a registered sex offender, make sure they're not wanted in 5 states, make sure that they aren't a featured member on some gay porn site, just a check up to see what they might not be disclosing in the first 1 or 2 dates.

But..... when was the last time you Googled yourself??

These days, we live our lives online.  We communicate with friends, we meet people, we share pictures, stories and thoughts with basically the entire world.  But that's something I don't think people think about.  We tend to think just about our "friend list" or our "followers", but in reality what you put on the internet is an open book for anyone to pluck off the shelf and peruse.

Here, take 30 seconds to do an experiment.  If you are on Twitter, go to Google and type in your screen name.  I don't care whether your account is "private" or not, I guarantee at least some of your tweets are going to show up as results.  And not just the tweets themselves, but other sites that analyze your tweets.  For example, according to Cursebird.com, I apparently curse like a gangsta rapper.  This site is solely dedicated to examining how much cursing is going on via Twitter, and will tell you exactly how often and what curse words you use. 

Now think about every site you're a member of, every e-mail address you have, every blog your write or comment on, every picture you're tagged in, every status update you post..... that is A LOT of info just flung out into the world wide web.  You post it and forget about it with the next post.  But guess what, loved ones: it's still there.  Still there for employers, lovers, friends, acquaintances, your pastor, a stalker, or anyone to find.

So.... what do you do?  This is an unavoidable issue for the vast majority of us, and removing yourself from the online community completely is not a very feasible option.  After all, there is some utility to being accessible online.  So, loved ones, here are some strategies I use to minimize the impact my online immortal words (and images) have: 

1)  Have more than one "identity" and keep them from commingling. 

I am essentially two different people online.  I have my "public me" that is on my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts that is associated with my real name, info and photos.  I then have my "private me" with is associated with my blogs, Twitter, and Tumblr that always uses a pseudonym and rarely (if ever) uses a photo of my face.  The "public me" is the info that I don't necessarily mind an employer or a family member to see.  In fact, I have my mother AND my kids as friends on my Facebook page, so that right there acts as an automatic censor.  The "private me", oddly enough, is actually the REAL me, but being that I often say, think and write things that may make me seem crazy not necessarily be acceptable and appropriate in all settings and to all people, I like to make this persona not easily identifiable as being me.  Sure you could use context clues to put two and two together to get five, but it would take some effort and time.

I keep these two identities separated, in effect creating a Chinese Wall between the two. All these sites have the option to linking to other sites, cross posting and the like, which may seem convenient but it also creates an easily traceable path back to you.  I may link up my Twitter and Tumblr, but neither of these two are going to be linked to my Facebook page.  I don't have the option of simultaneously posting tweets as status updates, and that's is on purpose.  For me, East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.

2)  Use different e-mail addresses.

Along the same lines as the first point, have different e-mail addresses for different purposes.  My e-mail address that I have associated with my Twitter account is NOT the same e-mail address that is listed on my resume.  It is possible to do a search of an e-mail address and see every site that you joined using that address.  Also when you join social networking sites, they often give you the option to search for people via your address book.  If you don't want your boss knowing what crazy trending topic you went in on last week, don't use the e-mail address that he or she has for you.  

3)  Don't post crazy shit.

This is kind of an obvious one, but one that I see people get caught up with all the flipping time.  I cringe every time I see someone tweeting about smoking weed, or driving drunk, or any other illegal activity because that can be used against you by an employer, or worse, a court of law.  Be careful what photos your post and what photos other people tag you in.  Recently I went on my son's 17 year old girlfriend's Facebook page and saw a picture of a table full of booze bottles.  I'm not even her friend on Facebook, but was able to go peruse her pictures freely.  Also don't contradict yourself.  If you call in sick, don't then Tweet about chillin' on your friend's boat all day.  Don't post anything that will get you fired, dumped, or cause your family shame and dishonor for generations to come.    

4) Google YOURSELF.

Do the very same thing that you regularly do for the guy or lady you met in the club last week.  Every so often, do a check-up and Google yourself and see what comes up.  Put in your name, your name in quotes, your e-mail addresses, anything that someone (i.e. an employer) would obviously use to find you, and just see what comes up.  My first result that comes up is my LinkedIn profile, which is exactly the sort of result I want people searching for me to see.  My Twitter account doesn't show up, my blogs don't show up, nothing that I would be worried about anyone seeing shows up.  Through this check-up process, I did discover an social networking site I was no longer using that was still connected to my e-mail, which prompted me to go delete the page.  If I hadn't Googled myself, I wouldn't have even thought about it's existence. 

Basically this all comes down to not just common sense, but constantly being mindful that everything online, no matter what your privacy settings are, is public.  If you don't care about your image to potential employers, clients, or future mother-in-law, by all means say and do whatever you want and while you're at it go get a huge face and neck tattoo.  There's a time and place for everything, loved ones.  Just don't make it all the time and everywhere by putting every aspect of your life on the web.

*And if you have no clue how 1984 has anything to do with this, please go read a book.

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