Delete Your Middle School Self from the Internet
There are few things in the world more embarrassing than having a date bring up your eighth grade Neopets page. And yet, it happens–even to the most tech-savvy. Cleaning up your internet presence, especially as a member of the first generation that’s been online since elementary school, can be difficult. However, as you enter college (or leave college for the workplace), purging as much of your pre-pubescent internet presence as possible is a must. Here are a few steps to get you started:
First, there’s the easy part–something you’ve probably already done as part of the college application process: google your full name, your current personal email address, and your phone number. See what pops up, and if it’s not something that you want associated with you going forward, delete it.
Once you’ve deleted the most obvious offenders, sit down with your notebook and pen in hand and jot down every username and email address you can remember having as a kid. Unless you were web-savvy enough to use the same username across the board, there will be several of them. Google each of them, and begin a merciless search-and-destroy mission. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to move on to sites you can remember using–the biggest offenders here are going to be blogs because adolescent bloggers are not the best at filtering their Very Important Emotions.
Did you have a Xanga, a Livejournal, a Deadjournal, a Greymatter site, or a Blogger site? You’ll want to permanently delete the accounts you no longer use and friends lock the ones you do. Livejournal users looking for this feature without a paid account can use LJ-Sec, a lovely piece of freeware–sadly, it’s Windows-only. Be sure to go through the profile information of the accounts that you leave active and delete anything that ties you in real life to you on the internet, unless it’s a blog you want to be known for going forward. If you’re going to keep a professional blog in the future, chances are that you’ll want to use WordPress, Squarespace, or Tumblr, so locking down or deleting older sites is likely something you need to do even if you do want to continue blogging publicly.
Beyond the blogs, think back to any social sites that you were absolutely crazy about five years ago: were you big into MySpace or Neopets? Friendster? Delete as many as you can remember that haven’t come across as part of the other searches. These are not likely to be damaging professionally, but it’s best to avoid the embarrassment that will ensue when someone stumbles across them who knows you as an adult.
If it hasn’t been caught in the cross fire of the previous steps, you’ll want to track down any publicly available videos of you. If you had a YouTube videoblog as a kid, lock it down or delete it–you need to be extra careful with videos because they’re very easy to tie back to you.
Remember: the purpose of the exercise isn’t to totally delete any evidence that you existed before your professional life–it’s to lock down anything that doesn’t need to be shared with those beyond your immediate circle. As you’re going forward into college or the working world, you’ll want to craft a public web presence. And when that time comes, you’ll need a new set of skills: try starting with those Zadi Diaz talks about in this EpicFu video about controlling your web presence.
Commenters: Got any embarrassing stories about people discovering your internet past? Got any tips or tricks you think we missed? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.