Are You Safe?

by Brett Schultz

People looking for a job or to keep a job should take charge of their internet presence.

Today, online life is such a central part of the average person’s existence that most people do not simply have an online identity; they have layers of identity. For most people, the Internet contains a wealth of information about them.

Consider, for example, the number of active accounts and inactive accounts that you have. Now, Google as many of your past usernames as you can recall. What are the results? There is a good chance that you will see more than expected — or wanted — likely from third parties pulling your information from your accounts. These results probably were taken off your accounts without your knowledge.

That small test provides just a glimpse of the information that Internet holds about you, and the results should encourage you to be more attentive to your online identity.

The Importance of Controlling Your Online Presence

The seemingly innocent action of posting to social media has the potential to be problematic, both in personal life and in professional life.

Think if you meet someone who interests you, and you share your Facebook profile with him or her: “Hit me up sometime : )” If that person takes you up on the offer, what will he or she find that you shared? In time, the images of keg stands might be endearing, but at first blush…

Those posts might also hurt your chances of getting hired. Some employers will visit your Facebook page and scrutinize your pictures and posts to determine if your lifestyle fits the company image or lies within a code of ethics. You might be a truly sincere and hard worker. If, however, your life outside work does not represent the company, you may suffer consequences.

Cleaning Up Your Online Presence

The first step in addressing your online identity is pure common sense: make sure the image that you are fostering on your own media is sending the right message about you, that is, the message that you want everyone to see.

Do you like the Friday night parties that reward a hard week’s work? Fine. But don’t post drinking pictures or other records of you letting off steam. Sure, social media is a way for people to extend their presence and express themselves, but companies might be considering those expressions as part of an interview or periodic review. The successful employee will have a clean social-media profile or none at all.

But burnishing an online image will likely require more than cleaning your immediate digital house. You will likely need to see where else your identity appears, and actively guard against appropriation.

When people try to take your pictures at parties, say “No.” Frequently check pictures, comments, and posts that you were tagged in. Even if that direct post is clean, is the profile of the poster? Are the profiles around you also clean? The stronger your connection to another profile, the more likely your profile will appear in the “People you may know” or “Suggested” areas.

Your own possible investigation of potential employers or potential colleagues demonstrates how important a clean profile is. You are about to do business with a company you never went to before, and no one you ask has any helpful information about them. You go to the staff page to get a look at who works there. You see someone who likes mountain biking just like you do, and you wonder if the person has an Instagram account. You find the account and see a mountain bike as the profile picture — but you also see a hardcore party-goer screaming at the TV during a football game, red Solo cup in hand. The person might work hard at the company, but you are likely turned off by his behavior. So you move on, looking for a company that has more mature workers so that you feel more comfortable.

Locking Down Your Accounts

Again, social media is a place to share some parts of your personal life, but if you feel compelled to include personal parts of your life that only a few should see, make sure that only those few truly can see what you’re posting.

Let us use the example of Instagram. Your Instagram is currently open and anyone can see your posts. Even if your posts are clean, have you even given thought to who sees your profile? If you would not want a billboard of your post put up for the world to see — then lock down your account by making it private. To be honest, companies’ social media accounts get more hits than billboards do, and this may be the same for you.

Not only does locking down your accounts prevent people from knowing everything you posted on there, this security also makes you physically safe. Stalking is a real threat to everybody. With technology, stalkers or people with bad intentions can much more easily spend time in front of a computer and gain more information about you and your schedule than they could just sitting in a car on your street. All it takes is linear leaps of logic to hop around search results and obtain information about your offline life.

It might seem like the internet is a scary and untamed place to be, but if you actively monitor your search results, monitor your posts, and lock down your accounts, you can keep yourself employable and, more importantly, safe. If you are having trouble cleaning up your online presence or have a request for a future technology article, send a message to FSJ@racc.edu, with a mention of your tech troubles in the subject.