- An employee at a South Carolina McDonald’s was charged with allegedly spitting in customers’ drinks. The allegations were never proved – and in fact, are now suspected to be false – and criminal charges were subsequently dismissed. Yet three years later, a Google search still brings up damning articles, complete with pictures of the employee in question.
- One couple in Valencia, California discovered that their names remain on the state’s list of child abusers, despite being falsely accused. They took a case to the Supreme Court of the United States to remove their names from the list, but their names have remained there even though the lower courts agreed that the couple were “factually innocent.”
We are living in an era where digital storage is cheap – so incredibly inexpensive that it’s often simpler to buy new storage than delete data. One alarming result of this revolution is that any blemish on our reputation – true or false – lives on indefinitely.Equally disturbing is the fact that companies can use this data to decide if they want to hire us, charge us higher fees and premiums, or label us a high credit risk.
The smart move: Start curating the kind of digital reputation that will make
you more attractive to everyone from employers to lenders, from insurers to investors, and more.
Here’s what to think about:
You must assume that everything you do electronically is being recorded and stored forever:
That’s not paranoia – that’s a fact of life. Every credit card purchase you’ve made is tracked and permanently stored. Every pharmaceutical prescription filled is recorded. There’s a record of your posts, every website you have ever viewed from your phone or home Internet connection, every public tweet sent from your Twitter account or status update on your Facebook account as well as Instagram, Eskimi, Badoo and every countless bit of social media.
Remember that databases have long, unreliable memories:
It’s particularly essential that you build up information about yourself for public consumption becauseBig Data aggregates pull together profiles that are then sold to companies. Often these are inaccurate – but this incorrect information forms the basis for opportunities that may be offered to you or pass you by. There’s even a database that tracks suspected retail theft, including interviews with employees merely interviewed or suspected of wrongdoing but not necessarily criminally charged. Major retailers check this database – and, correct or not, candidates’ chances of employment are scuttled if there’s a hit.
Tailor your public persona:
Bulletproof yourself to the extent possible. Whether you’re working on countering false, misleading or outdated information or if you just want to give others a sense of who you are proactively; create lots of positive yet accurate content about yourself. Showcase verifiable achievements, share industry-relevant articles, write a professional blog and cross-post it. Leverage social real estate and create public profiles on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest.
Also find sites relevant to your interests – If you’re an engineer, get on GitHub, for example. Make sure to list the same geographic area in each, and tie in some background points such as a school or an employer as well. This helps ensure that search algorithms will connect them together – and with enough information, the facts will overwhelm any irrelevant details about you.
Think about your privacy:
It might seem counter-intuitive to follow the advice above and focus on privacy – but it’s achievable. You should create separate personas, dividing your world into the personal and the public. Never cross-pollinate. In other words, make sure content like photos for your personal profiles don’t also appear on your public profiles. Think Ghost-busters: don’t cross the streams. Make your personal Twitter and Facebook accounts private – and also use ephemeral messaging tools like Snapchat, TigerText or Telegram. Just remember that even so-called private accounts and short-lived messaging tools can be screenshot and shared. Write your messages accordingly.
How are you proactively managing your reputation - online and in real life?