In a previous post, we talked about how to figure out what the internet says about you. If you’ve googled yourself, it’s possible that you’ve found at least one or two things that surprise you. An unflattering picture, a bunch of petty comments about someone who gets your goat on an internet forum, or (worse) a pile of information that just paints an inaccurate picture of who you really are.
If you find that you’re not pleased with how the internet reflects you, there are two basic approaches to fixing it: removing stuff, and patching up blank spots. You do what you can to control unflattering information, while adding in things that represent you more accurately. If you’re an absolute baseball fanatic, or you like to bake, that’s the sort of information you can add to your online profiles without much effort. But first things first: how do you delete incriminating info from your “internet record”?
Getting rid of stuff you don’t like can be an exercise in frustration, but it’s often worth the effort. If you’re the one who’s accidentally misrepresenting you, it’s easy (but time consuming) to fix. If your tweets tend toward the dramatic or highly personal, consider protecting them and only allowing people you know in real life to read them. Ditto your LiveJournal, your Facebook, and anywhere else you post things that others need real life context about you to understand.
If the content you don’t like is hosted by someone else, the easiest option is to ask them very nicely if they could please take it down. (You have to talk to the webmaster of the site where the info is located, not Google. Google does not control the info about you, and contacting them won’t do you much good). You can cite privacy concerns or just let them know that you’re uncomfortable with it. If you’re on good terms with the person, or if they’re an amicable stranger, there’s a good chance they had no idea you didn’t like the content and they’ll rush to remove it. I have politely asked people to remove pictures of me from Flickr, and have untagged myself on Facebook more than once. (Addwekk has tons of information about how to manage your picture tagging).
Sometimes, however, the hard truth is that content you don’t like is on the internet to stay. Maybe you had a brush with the law, and your conviction is a matter of public record, or your nasty ex posted the vicious e-mails you sent him on his blog (while failing to mention that he cheated on you). In certain cases, it’s possible that you could pursue legal action, but that’s outside the scope of this article, so let’s just assume for the moment that the nasty info stays. In this case, what do you do?
Your best bet is to make sure that there’s lots of good information about you on the internet. This will help anyone who googles you to get a more comprehensive picture of your personality, and it makes the negative stuff both harder to find and less damaging. (If you only have three search results for your name, and two of them make you look like a psycho, that’s bad. If there are fifty results, those two instances seem like bad days, not a comprehensive picture of who you are.) If you don’t have a personal website, consider making one. There are a couple of tactics that will help you “own” the top search results for your name. Mashable has a great article that outlines specific methods for controlling your Google search results.
Essentially, it’s a lot of work, but it is possible fill the internet with information about you that you actually want people to see. If you have a huge internet PR problem, it’s also possible to pay people to make it better, but the prices of “Reputation Repair” packages range from hundreds to thousands, so make sure the reputation damage is actually worth throwing money at before you sign up.
Two final notes:
- It’s not a bad idea to consider the possibility that if it has ever been on the internet, it is still on the internet You may remove something unflattering, and it might crop up again later (someone has copied it, or a link that was inactive becomes visible again, etc.). As hard as it can be to get your head around, it’s a good idea to be prepared to explain your most unflattering moments to your new romantic prospects.
- Google only crawls most sites every 30 days, and updates the search listings according to what it finds. This means that even if you make major changes to your web presence, they may take a few weeks to start showing up in search results. If you decide to make your online dating profiles private or request that they stop appearing in Google search, the site can take action immediately but that doesn’t mean this will be reflected in your Google search results right away.
The bottom line is that it can take some time and effort, but you can influence your search results if you’re not crazy about what a quick Google search says about you. Good luck, and happy Googling!