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Have you Googled your Name Lately?

28 May 2012

It may seem like an egotistical thing to do, but it may surprise you what kind of information gets unearthed, especially if you have a unique name (like mine).

The last time I tried, Google spat out a frightening array of information about me, including blog posts by me, videos of me, events I attended, and even a photo of my very wild birthday party with lots of scantily-clad women. Thankfully, the last photo turned out to be that of my namesake in San Francisco.

Things you post on the Internet tend to stay there for a long time. However, our very human need for self-expression and the fact that it’s so easy to post things online makes it impossible for us to not put things up on the Internet.

I thus present a few tips to help you survive with your online reputation intact:

Tip 1: Use a nickname if you’re not sure

If you’re posting something online, think for a moment – will I be ashamed of this 10 years later? If it’s a ‘yes’ or you’re not sure, post using a nickname instead.

Tip 2: Use an untraceable nickname

Make sure your nickname cannot be linked to you.

For example, if your nickname is “superwondergirl83”, searching on Facebook for “” shouldn’t lead to your Facebook profile!

Tip 3: Behave yourself IRL (in real life)

At the end of the day, you’ll have to start behaving. No matter how careful you are about what you post online, others can also post stuff about you.

So think twice about downing that one more tequila shot, especially if you’re already slumped on the table in the club.

Now, what if these tips came too late, and Google throws up that photo of you passed out in your own pool of vomit at Zouk?

Here are some tips for you that could work. (Your mileage may vary.)

Tip 1: Delete what you can

If you have control over the content on that site, such as your own blog or your own Facebook account, delete it. There’s a chance that it might disappear forever.

The Internet may keep information for a long time, but if you’re lucky, things can disappear forever without a trace, even for Google.

Tip 2: Ask nicely

If it was someone else who posted that nasty bit of information about you, ask them nicely to take it down. The keyword here is ‘nicely’. No one is obligated to take it down, so you’re relying solely on their goodwill. Good luck.

Tip 3: Get a lawyer

This isn’t really a tip because I don’t recommend it, but it can sometimes work.

You can get a lawyer to write a scary letter to ask the site to take it down. Many sites will comply, just to avoid trouble.

However, this method comes across as bullying, and nobody likes a bully. If people are unhappy enough, an unintended consequence could be the Streisand effect – people will try to publicise widely the very information you’re trying to hide.

So really, don’t get a lawyer.

It’s cheaper and better to behave yourself.

Coleman Yee (his real name) is a Shaman at Digital Boomerang. He has given consultations and training to hundreds of public servants, and he is learning to behave himself in real life.
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