Time to Spring Clean Your Online Presence

By Tracy Dowdy

It may be true as Tennyson said that “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” but it’s also true that this not-so-young woman’s thoughts turn to spring cleaning. Not only am I opening windows to air out the house while I dust and scrub, but this year I’ve decided to do some online cleaning as well. Instead of just cupboards and the junk drawer in the kitchen, I’m cleaning up and clearing out email accounts I no longer use, coupon sites I signed up for, and offers from online retailers I’ve used in the past.

It’s not just a matter of getting organized. Whether you’re a recent graduate trying to launch your career or someone who’s been around the block, cleaning up your online presence is a good idea. Do you really want a potential employer to see your Throwback Thursday pictures of Spring Break ‘92?

Start with what you know. For many of us, that’s Facebook. Go to Facebook and follow the steps to ensure your posts are private.  Keep in mind Facebook’s default setting for posts is “Public” so be sure to change the settings to “Friends.” You can even go back and change the privacy settings on past posts.

If you’ve already accepted Facebook friend requests from co-workers, you can tailor who sees what by creating a custom list. Lists can be edited to add or delete people at any time.

The next step is to search yourself using multiple search engines. Be sure to search for both text and images – remember those Spring Break ‘92 photos we mentioned earlier? Just because you’ve cleaned up your Facebook account doesn’t mean friends and family haven’t posted photos or information about you that you may not want to be public. These tips can help you refine your search for best results.

If you find objectionable content and you know the person responsible, ask him or her to remove it. If it’s via a third party or you are unable to reach them, you can contact the site administrator or owner and ask for it to be removed.

Consider removing yourself from background check websites like Spokeo. I had never heard of Spokeo until recently, but was not impressed to see my last 3 addresses and names of family members come up when I searched my name.

If you have a personal blog, you may want to review past posts. Something that seemed worth ranting about before may seem inappropriate today; likewise with those old social media accounts like MySpace and Bebo.

Keep in mind that certain sites rank higher in search results, so utilize social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to put your best self out there. If all else fails, make the bad more difficult to find by drowning it with the good.

If all this seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is. It took years to build your online presence, so expect it to take some effort to clean it up. In the end, just like those beautifully organized menus in your junk drawer, it’ll be worth it.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. 

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