Your Online Presence (And Why You Have Less Control Over It Than You May Think)

Emma Totten Global Me
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We live in a world increasingly saturated by digital technology. If I Googled myself right now I would be able to find my age, my hometown, my college major and even a few pictures of myself. If I dove deeper, I would be able to find my parents’ names, my home address, possibly even my boyfriend’s name. Creeped out yet?

Many people are worried about the Internet and how much data it holds about us. In a Pew Research Poll from May 2015, 93% of people responded that they found it important that they were in control of who could get information about them.

American Privacy Pew Research Poll shows 93% of people want to be able to control who sees what about them on the Internet.
American Privacy Pew Research Poll shows 93% of people want to be able to control who sees what about them on the Internet.

Looking at poll results like this makes me very curious about who was answering these questions. I think that as a younger person (a millennial, I guess is the word) I have completely given up any semblance of control over the information people can get about me. Sure, you can comb through Facebook’s privacy guidelines and change your post settings and delete things that have accumulated on your page that you don’t want there anymore.

Political Cartoon on Facebook's Advertising Strategy
Political Cartoon on Facebook’s Advertising Strategy by Mike Luckovich

To Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and many other sites we are nothing but a treasure trove of information they can sell to advertisers. Yay, the digital age!

For me, this invasion of privacy doesn’t feel too much like an invasion. The Internet has always been pretty transparent about itself. It’s a machine. Everything is algorithms and formulas; there are no pinky-swears that the Internet won’t show your parents all your drunken weekend pictures or keep quiet about how bad your braces looked in seventh grade. And so, it is much more important to me to try to guide the Internet in what I want people to know about me. Having a global brand is increasingly important since we now know that 80% (or more) of new employers screen potential employees through Google before even interviewing them.

It’s important to present yourself well through the Internet since we now know that it may be an employer’s first impression of you. That’s why you will only find tame pictures on my Facebook page (mostly dog-related, but I couldn’t deal with an employer that didn’t like dogs anyway, so it’s a win-win), a very comprehensive view of the professional positions I’ve held on LinkedIn, and and SEO-optimized thesis project that I am very proud of.  I Google myself often, and try to imagine looking at everything available for the first time. Would I hire me? Would I go get a drink after work with me? These are important questions to ask yourself about your online presence.

Another important thing I try to keep in mind is the power of the Internet. 3 years ago, if you were to Google “United Airlines,” the third search result would have been a video called “United Breaks Guitars.” The man behind that video has a pretty powerful message about branding yourself online (and not throwing people’s belongings all over the tarmac at an airport).

Is there a risk to having so much information available about yourself online? Of course. You can guide the Internet to show good things about you but at the end of the day the Internet is a machine that will pull up whatever it thinks other people want to know about you. Any blunder you make could become an immediate nightmare and then it could live on indefinitely. These ten people lost their real-life jobs over something posted online. Yay, the Internet!

In conclusion, I think it’s time that we stopped trying to hide from the Internet. Believe me, it’s not working. Embrace the machine and try to get it to work to your advantage. (And maybe try to delete all your Facebook pictures from middle school.)

*This blog post was written by Emma Totten and edited by Vitalien Adoukonou*

2 Comments on “Your Online Presence (And Why You Have Less Control Over It Than You May Think)”

  1. Hi Emma,

    Great topic. The most important thing you said about the invasion of privacy is that, indeed, it is not an invasion. We should have trust that the information available of us online is safe. We know it’s out there, and we put it there, when it’s used for unfair or hidden purposes we should feel some concern. Take the NSA or Ashley Madison leaks — we should have trust, especially in the U.S., the so-called “land of the free.”

    If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Edward Snowden’s video on John Oliver’s show. Snowden says that even though the government may be storing our information and using it to their advantage, we should not share less because of it. We need to feel that liberty online, and it’s not something we need to silence.


  2. I share the same sentiment about the non-invasion of privacy of the Internet. Whenever we sign up for an Internet site such as Facebook or Twitter, we are allowing the corporation to access our information. We essentially trade information for access to a service or entertainment platform. Where it gets sticky is that the Internet really isn’t just a machine. It’s ruled by corporations. So when we say we’re trading information, it’s not to a faceless, algorithmic computer. We trade our information to people who work in corporations. This is where the danger is, because they have access to so much of our personal information. That being said, anyone who intends to be connected on the Internet must get used to leveraging their information, as you mentioned.

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