The controversy around Tweets posted by Britain’s first youth police commissioner, Paris Brown, highlights a growing problem for young workers - how to get rid of embarrassing material they or others have posted online.
Brown, 17, stepped down from her post over the Tweets, which date from when she was aged between 14 and 16 - and contained homophobic statements, as well as references to drugs.
The problem of posts ‘haunting’ people is not restricted to public figures, though - with research from Microsoft showing that 70% of recruiters have turned potential employees down due to controversial material that has shown up in web searches.
More than half of UK adults would remove everything they had ever posted online about themselves if they could, according to a survey conducted by Norton by Symantec in 2011.
Thankfully, 'pruning' your own online reputation is a lot easier than many people imagine - a few basic steps can ‘police’ your profile on sites such as Twitter and Facebook, simply by adjusting privacy settings, or hiding and deleting unwanted posts.
Below are some tips from security experts at Yahoo! and Norton by Symantec.
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There are ways to hide embarrassing posts or photos on blogs and other sites, even without their owners agreeing to delete them, says Yahoo! technology expert Becky Worley.
The best tactic in this situation is ‘flooding’ Google with results that push unwanted ones down.
“Take solace from the fact that 97% of searchers never look beyond the first 3 pages of search results,” says Worley in a detailed video guide here. “If you can push the negative results down by posting positive or neutral information that's more current or has more appeal to search engines, you'll win the battle 97% of the time.”
Worley suggests creating a Google Plus profile with information you want employers to see, as Google searches tend to rank its own social network highly - and creating a LinkedIn profile with job information. Filling both of these with information about your skills is a useful first step.
Worley recommends creating profiles on other social sites to ensure a 'managed' public profile - and sending information to school and university sites to ensure profiles there are up to date.
Norton's security experts recommend using image and blog search functions to ensure you stay on top of information posted about you - and warns against posting any details about political or religious beliefs. Sections for religion or political leanings are part of profiles on many social sites including Facebook.
Norton also warns not to trust privacy settings on social networks - as these may change.
Managing friends lists can also be a good way to control what is posted online - so that, for instance, you can control who mentions you, or tags you in images.
“Do not rely on default privacy settings,” says the company. “Review the privacy controls offered by the social networking sites you use and determine what’s right for you. These controls are still evolving and providing more choices. Continue evaluating them over time.”
“Regularly evaluate the social networks and online services that you actively use. Cancel the ones you don’t. Regularly review the lists of people you’re connected to online. Keep your lists of friends, linked organisations and associations current and ensure you’re happy with your connections.”
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