The Haunting Internet: When Your Old Posts Resurface

10/13/2017 12:43 pm ET
Shame Nation

Never put a temporary emotion on the permanent Internet because when you have that one bad day when your fingers go flying before your brain kicks in, it may come back to haunt you.

Today 70 percent of employers will put you through a Google rinse cycle before they invite you in for an interview according to the most recent CareerBuilder’s survey. In the same survey, 54 percent of applicants have posted content that have caused them not to be considered.

It’s Public and Permanent®

The Internet is public domain. Did you know that the Library of Congress is documenting every single public tweet that has ever been made? Sites like allow you to search old tweets going back much further than the Twitter search engine currently allows. Even old versions of websites that you redesigned ages ago are still viewable, thanks to the Wayback Machine, an Internet archive that crawls the web and preserves blasts from the past. Take a moment and search your own website (if you have one) to see what information lingers online.

Know that everything you put out there has the possibility of becoming “Public and Permanent®,” an expression perfectly coined by Richard Guerry, founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication. “Far too many people with technology are not stopping to think about the long-term repercussions of their actions,” he says. Guerry advocates for digital consciousness—always posting with the awareness that anything you’ve documented could be disseminated. “There is no way to control what is going to happen, none,” he says. “Digital tools were never designed for privacy. We’re going against the grain for what these tools were intended. By no means is everything going to be Public and Permanent®, but you have to be prepared. Think about your legacy. It’s not just imagining [that] your ninety-year-old grandma will see your naughty text—but [that] your own grandkids will too.”

Being smart doesn’t save you

As we witnessed with the Harvard applicants that had their acceptances swiftly revoked for their online behavior, even the best and brightest teens can make dumb digital decisions. The 2017 Kaplan Test Prep survey says that 35 percent of college recruiters will use social media to learn more about their applicants — and 42 percent said that what they found had a negative impact on the prospective student.

In contrast, the Kaplan Test Prep survey also shared that 47 percent of officers who do check social media profiles say the practice positively affects how they view applicants.

Teens and young adults should use their social media accounts as an asset, creating LinkedIn profiles or Twitter feeds that will impress college admissions officers or future employers, says Alan Katzman, founder of Social Assurity, which has coached nearly a thousand high school and college students on this technique. “You have to learn to post content that won’t generate likes or follows from your group of friends, but toward your future audience, who will [use it to] try to determine who you are,” he says, in reference to his clients’ potential employers and college recruiters.

For many young people, the problem is not necessarily wiping clean a social media profile littered with red Solo cups and bikini selfies, it’s simply a lack of anything impressive—like community service or academic accomplishments. “It’s void,” Katzman says.

You’re not telling your story. That’s the biggest problem—they’re looking at nothingness.” One of his clients created an Instagram account depicting her caring for horses and riding competitively, making sure that the college admissions team received the link along with her essay. “It’s telling your story in the digital world and putting it out there,” Katzman says. “That’s all you need,really, that ‘social proof,’ that ‘I’m not writing this essay to impress you, not conjuring up this image. This is me.’”

Minding your legacy on social

  • Be mindful of what you share. Never assume your words can’t get twisted and posts can’t come back to surprise you.
  • Learn patience. Pause before you post. Write as if the world is watching. (In many situations, they are).
  • Never assume your among friends. Make it a habit to de-clutter your friends on social platforms. Eliminate those you don’t know and create lists when sharing your family pictures or other information that cyber-acquaintances may use out of context.
  • Never air workplace woes. If you’re upset for any reason, take it offline with a friend for some wine and whine.
  • When in doubt, you can click-out. The best thing about technology, you can turn it off.

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