The internet is the perfect repository for some of our dearest memories – photo albums, emails from sadly deceased friends and family, hour-long Vine compilations – all those wonderful times, fossilised in kilobytes and pixels.
But with the good comes the bad.
Just as all your highlights and pleasant memories are kept in situ online, so are your transgressions, arguments and all those pictures of your embarrassing haircuts.
This is what we call your online reputation or digital footprint. We’ve talked about it previously on our podcast, but we wanted to share some thoughts and suggestions for managing your online reputation in our Magazine as well.
Nobody has a clearer digital footprint than ‘digital natives’ – young people who have grown up with the internet as an ever-present in their lives. From their first few neonatal seconds to the moment you are reading this, they have shared their lives (or had them shared) online.
Where you might have banished your first school disco from memory, including the braces and obscene quantities of hair gel, digital natives have had theirs plastered over Snapchat and Instagram.
Where your playground disputes may have meant a difficult lunchtime or two, digital natives can have abuse (and their responses to it) continue at all hours on social media and messaging apps.
Where your mistakes were left in the past, digital natives have theirs stored for all to see – and dig up as required.
So, how can we – as digital natives or digital immigrants – manage our online reputation?
Find what’s out there already
The first step to managing your online reputation is actually finding out what it is – and you might be surprised by what a simple Google search can reveal.
- Try a few different search engines. Google is ubiquitous but it doesn’t hold an absolute monopoly over the internet and its competitors can turn up results that Google might not. Type your name into DuckDuckGo and Bing as well as Google to get a clearer picture of your digital footprint.
- You can also use advanced search functions to include or exclude certain keywords. This is perfect if you have a famous (or infamous) namesake.
- Go past the first page. There are more than just 10 results to see!
- Search for usernames/aliases you might use online, as well as your name.
For schools and colleges SWGfL Reputation Alerts are a fantastic tool for tracking your school's online reputation and will keep you updated whenever and wherever you are mentioned online.
Simply choose your keywords, set your preferences, and Reputation Alerts will notify you when people are talking about your school.
Smoke, mirrors, and pseudonyms
Once you’ve established your digital footprint after a few searches, you can get a handle on how things progress from there.
Some of the approaches you may want to consider include:
- Use a pseudonym or variation of your name on social media. Some people take the vowels out of their surname (e.g. Clarke to Clrk) or use their middle name instead of their surname.
- Even with the tightest privacy settings, some content will always be visible on your social media profiles. On Facebook and Twitter, your profile and cover photos will always be visible. On Instagram, your profile photo will be visible. Consider whether you want to be identifiable by these images and what stories they tell.
- Have personal and professional profiles. It might sound like a bit of a hassle, but it lets those of us in the public eye share our lives and opinions in a way that feels safe (as long as you’re not Rebekah Vardy).
For more on managing your privacy online, head to our privacy 5 in 5. It’s a five-minute read with five pieces of actionable advice on beefing up your privacy online.
What to do if you, your school, or your company is targeted online
We love a good grumble. Moaning is up there with queuing as one of Britain’s most famous exports and despite our commitment to preaching “say nothing if you can’t say anything nice”, we struggle to put it into practice.
If someone is speaking negatively about you online, it’s important to challenge it positively but also to get to the root of the problem.
That doesn’t have to be done online, but it does mean holding out an olive branch, not a nettle. An understanding response followed by a private message to discuss things further or arrange a face-to-face meeting may be the best way to cover all bases.
All of this is easier to do if you’re a company or school. If someone is targeting you personally online, it may be better to not engage with them and use the appropriate reporting functions on the website. If you need help doing this, or want further assistance with abusive content, contact our Report Harmful Content service.
If you are part of the children’s workforce and are experiencing this sort of issue (personally or professionally), you can also contact the Professionals Online Safety Helpline – the service we operate as part of our work with the UK Safer Internet Centre.