It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to separate our lives from Social Media, these days. My mother-in-law is 87 and she has a FaceBook page and a “hit” YouTube “music” video with almost 1000 views!
Yes, it’s very true. “Grandma Bea” has a strong Social Media persona and quite a fan following to go with it. Fact is – though – she knows nothing about any of this. It turns out that her mischievous grandkids get a huge kick out of her “Brooklyn (NY) Jewish mannerisms,” and set up all of this stuff on the Web to amuse themselves and whatever other family and friends might stop by.
When it was finally explained to her that she could be found on the Web, Grandma Bea remarked that it was “not a good thing” for her to be seen online. Her concern had nothing at all to do with Internet security, though. She was simply afraid that anyone seeing her online would think she was there “yenta-ring about them.” Such is the Social Media understanding of an 87 year old, who grew up “networking” with friends mostly by yelling out of open windows in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
Here’s the thing. Some online mention about any and all of us is nearly unavoidable. We don’t even have to actively participate on the Web to find our names there. Yesterday, I Googled my own 87 year old mother, who is not quite as much of an Internet celebrity as her notorious in-law. Mom still showed up in several real estate results (she sold her condo and bought another) and on a few people lookup sites. Her name also appears in my dad’s 2007 obituary as his surviving wife. We can’t seem to totally hide from some type of Web mention. At very least, word of our existence can be found somewhere in cyberspace.
On the Web, Your Life Really is an Open Book
So, what should all of this mean to us? The fact that some of us have a ton of personal information on the Web means that complete strangers can gather and organize this information to form a complete picture of us – who we are and what we are all about. While those of us already “nominated for sainthood” have little to worry about, the rest of us need to be extra careful about what we – ourselves – release to others on the web that can be personally damaging. This might even be the smallest of things.
I remember screening resumes for a job I was trying to fill and coming across several E-mail addresses that referred to sex, drugs and crime. Choosing an E-mail address is as much of a judgment call as posting explicit photos on the Web. If you are going to have a risqué E-mail address, it is not the one you want to use for potential employers or in business. If you can’t figure this one out on your own, you absolutely deserve to miss out on some important opportunities.
The explicit photos I previously mentioned? They can also be damaging. Perhaps not now; maybe later in life. How many potential beauty contest winners and aspiring politicians have been punished by the media after finding inappropriate photos and videos on Social Media sites like FaceBook, Flickr and YouTube? Once revealed, opportunities have been lost and reputations have been severely damaged. Putting such materials on the Web may have seemed silly and innocent at the time, but over the long run they can be quite damaging to ones future.
Today’s visual posts may even have more impact than former President Clinton’s admission that he smoked “but didn’t inhale” pot. Clinton’s was only a verbal admission and much was left to our imaginations. By posting inappropriate pictures and videos – online – the individual gives the world actual photographic evidence of something that may come back and bite them later on.
Few of Us Wear Teflon
We can’t protect ourselves from everything that might eventually end up on the Internet. However, we can certainly help ourselves by not contributing to a potential controversy. There are several things we all should be doing to limit the damage.
- Google yourself regularly to uncover what is on the Web. Set up a Google Alert or two that will regularly forward (by E-mail) any mention of your name; your company name and anything else that refers to your personal and business identities.
- Avoid sharing your social security number; bank accounts information; driver’s license number; any account IDs and passwords; and even credit card information (if you can avoid it) on the Web. Identity theft affects millions of innocent people each year. Sharing this information on the Web may not only result in financial loss, but can also result in loss of credibility and reputation. The latter may be true if someone mishandles your identity and you inherit the negative fallout.
- Choose an E-mail address that is appropriate for general and business use. If it might embarrass your mother, choose another one with a less shocking effect.
- Be careful which of your photos get posted on the Web. It’s not all about your nude photos, either. Remember the night you and your friends got drunk and trashed your hotel room? Those photos are meant for your scrapbook, not FaceBook.
- Think carefully when being interviewed by the press or bloggers. If the topic is controversial and you respond in a way that may seem offensive to others, you can take it to the bank that your quote will reside on the web, indefinitely. Not the sort of thing you want employers and influencers to come across when they Google you.
- Have a clear understanding with your family and friends that they need to gain your permission ANYTIME they want to post anything about you on the Web. Let them know, in advance, what is totally off limits for that purpose. One thing that you may not have thought about is your personal health information, which can be used against you by insurers and even by some potential employers.
- If you post your resume or anything else of a biographical nature on the Web, be sure that it is accurate and consistent – especially chronologically. Revisionist history is not appreciated by those considering you for certain opportunities – especially those related to security clearances and the like.
- If you plan on being an Internet “Troll” or “Flamer, ” don’t get caught and called out, publicly. You can never explain away that sort of negative behavior.
- In your Blog articles and comments, be very careful not to let your emotions ever get the best of you. Others reading your materials might not be very impressed by you painting yourself as a “hothead.” It could cost you – big time – down the road.
- Always seek to protect the innocents. Whenever you can avoid sharing detailed information about children and the elderly, be sure to do so. They are most often the victims of scams and they are also very vulnerable to bodily harm from the evils lurking in the shadows on the Web.
An Ounce of Prevention…
Aside from your health, your reputation is the most important personal life component you’ll ever need to protect. When we speak well of others we mention their good judgment, integrity, trustworthiness, loyalty and dependability. In a flash, all or most of these desirable attributes can be damaged or destroyed. A single lapse in careful thinking or not using good judgment just one time can be responsible for you bring turned down for good job; refused some other prize or developing a poor reputation among your peers. Please consider the ten items listed above among the best ways to protect yourself on the Web from sharing “too much information” with others.
This article was written by Marc Levine, who you can read about in his entry in the Who’s Who of Internet Trolling.