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From blogs to social networks, the Internet has become a breeding ground for self-expression. And thanks to customized privacy settings on many sites, it’s easy to assume that you’re in full control of filtering who sees what. But according to online experts, anything you post can be akin to writing in indelible ink.
“Once something is online, it’s there forever more or less,” says Swisher, founder of The Web Counts, a company that helps clients clean up their online presence. “I personally use the ‘whiteboard test’ -- imagine that whatever you are writing will be blown up to the size of a white board and shown to your entire family or company.”
It might seem like a generalization, but Swisher’s not far off. Even if you delete a post or comment, it is most likely still out there, having been captured by an archival site like The Way Back Machine or Google’s caching functionality. A search for your proper name could also turn up results with your blog or user name. All this could come back to haunt you in the worst way possible: A 2009 Microsoft privacy survey showed that 63 percent of recruiters and HR pros review candidates’ social networking sites, and 78 percent take search results into consideration.
What’s more, potentially offensive posts can also have negative repercussions on your personal life. Though they now wish to remain anonymous, Web users have stories to tell about their online social network posts costing them a high price. One Chicagoan says his frequent “anti-Democrat” Facebook status updates turned off a long-time college friend to the point that he was promptly “de-friended.” In another case, a Los Angeles-based freelance writer’s frequent and lengthy complaints about her rejections on a Yahoo! listserv harmed her reputation with a group of peers, she says.
To assess the need for damage control (if any), Swisher suggests starting with a simple visit to a search engine. “It’s funny how many people don’t Google their names to see what’s out there,” he shares. “Be aware of what’s currently associated with you online.” And, of course, when in doubt, apply the golden rule: “Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.”
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