Nearly one billion people have a social media presence on Facebook, and another 160 million maintain social media profiles on LinkedIn. Given these numbers, it's not surprising that most human tendencies can be found in social media profiles. Keeping up an active social media presence can be great for staying in touch with friends and family, networking with professional contacts, and keeping your fans updated with the occasional tweet.
Unfortunately, your social media presence is also really good for telling your employers more about you than you might be comfortable with. In today's world of remote access, digital tracking, and practically unlimited data storage, it can't be said often enough that you should assume that everything you post within your social media presence will be available for anyone in the world to see, including your employer. Your vacation pictures, your opinions about politics, and even your relationship status are all fair game, and there's no law against using that information against you in hiring, retention, and promotion decisions.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to clean up your social media presence. While you should never assume that the pictures you posted of Spring Break '07 are truly gone, you can at least make it less likely that the supervisor interviewing you for an administrative position will stumble across them by deleting them from your Facebook account and Twitter feed. If you held an unpopular political opinion ten years ago, check to see if you posted it to MySpace. Be sure you untag yourself from pictures as well.
Tracking down and simply deleting obnoxious old posts can make for an uncomfortable walk down memory lane, but it's better for you to find those embarrassing old posts than your boss, subordinates, or prospective employer.
While seeking out and destroying your inappropriate old posts can be a chore, at least it's relatively simple and easy. The next step is likely to be your inquisitor's first step—run your name through a search engine. Whatever comes up here may or may not be fixable. You might find your old epinions.com profile and erase some especially unfortunate product reviews, or you might come across your name on another person's social media presence.
If another person is involved in a social media faux pas, decide whether it's worth getting in touch with the person and asking him to remove the reference. Some people will do this, while others might not. If the content is threatening or libelous, you might have legal recourse, but very often you must grin and bear it. If you can't deal with the problem at the source, you can appeal directly to Google to help you remove references to you from their search results. A simple search will show you what's out there and you can take steps to mitigate the damage.
Perhaps the biggest lesson people have had to learn this century is that they have little to no privacy. Every post, every picture, every little tweet in your online social media presence can be cross-referenced with the face you show the public. The most important tip to having a clean social media presence is to think before you post.
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