Do You Have a Dirty Digital Footprint?

AMA1-19-14A 2013 circuit court ruling declared that for legal purposes, you are your social media profile. As the lines between our digital lives and the “real world” keep on blurring, the footprints we leave in cyberspace can – and usually will – be used against us in situations ranging fro job applications to mortgage loans and even dating. That’s why it’s more important now than ever to make sure your online profile accurately reflects to person you want the world to see.

Your Profile is You
In one of the recent lawsuits pressed against Bank of America, the court found that when a defense attorney checked out the Facebook page of a juror, it was the legal equivalent of contacting her in person. That case established that a person’s online identity can be as legitimate as their real one. And in many situations, that online self is the first one that people encounter. Employers Google job applicants. Lenders check out the social media activity of loan seekers. Singles Google potential dates for hints of bad behavior. In an age of widespread sharing of information, anybody can find out anything with the click of a mouse.

Your Digital Footprint
Internet marketers and cybersecurity experts use the term “digital footprint” to describe an individual’s presence across various platforms online. That includes everything from a basic Facebook profile to business networks like LinkedIn and even public records, which are easily available to any searcher who wants to find out if you’ve ever been arrested or where you lived in high school.

The more active you are in cyberspace the wider your digital footprint. It includes everything you’ve ever done online, including sites you signed up for and forgot about, interests you had and then abandoned, or pictures posted from other times in your life. And all these things can come back to haunt you.

Cleaning Up the Dirt
Cybersecurity experts recommend doing a periodic review of your online “brand” every so often – especially if you’re trying to get a mortgage or a job, or start a business. There are two kinds of digital dirt to look for. There’s the kind you pot yourself, in reckless posts or tweets, or unwise images of things like drunken parties. And then there’s the kind posted by others: videos, photos and content that –either cluelessly or with malicious intent – paints you in a less than flattering light, or in the form of negative comments or reviews.

Take control of the situation, as Jason Hartman advises. Find out what’s out there with your name on it. If you posted it, get rid of it. If others did, that might be a trickier issue. Experts suggest asking them to remove it – or to rehabilitate the pieces you do control enough to offset it if they won’t. Close unused or dormant accents on sites you don’t use or haven’t visited in a long while.

More than that, decide what kind of identity you want to have – and then take steps to create it. Rewrite profiles to reflect what you want to be known for, or get your own website to reflect the identity you want people to know.

Life online is an open book – and anyone can read it. And because so much of our lives depend on what can be found there, it’s becoming more and more important to be a diligent editor.  (Top image:Flickr/cyber1)

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