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Take control: how to maintain a clean online image

By Amanda Munro
On February 21, 2013

In an age when online profiles are a major source of information for future employers, law enforcement, and even potential criminals, awareness of what is shared online (and more importantly, who can see it) is increasingly important.

In December, Facebook implemented "graph search," a new version of their site that makes it easier for friends and advertisers to find personal information about Facebook users through the search bar.

Although "graph search" isn't available to everyone yet, it will be soon. This means your photos, likes, and places will be much more easily accessible. When a Facebook "friend" types, "photos of friends at college party" into Graph Search, photos and posts from years ago will come up at the click of a button.

Advertisers can also use this information to provide ads specifically tailored to your interests based on your and your friends' searches. This is why sharing personal information on your online profile is unwise and potentially dangerous.

Who are your friends, really?

Have you ever felt uncomfortable when a friend of a friend of a friend comments on a picture you were tagged in, or contacts you through an application? Reducing your friends list to include only the people you know, trust, and actually want to be connected with reduces the ability of outside applications to obtain your personal information through the activity of your friends.

Secure your profile.

There are steps you can take to make your profile as private as possible. Click on the picture of the lock on the top right corner of your page and then on "Who can see my stuff?" Here, you can choose who can see your future posts, if you want to review posts about you before they appear on your page, and what other people can see when they look at your timeline.

Next, click on "See more settings". You can also limit posts from the past so they're viewable by "friends only". You can also choose to keep other search engines from linking to your timeline.

Go to your profile and click "about me". Really reconsider what information you want people to see. Hint: the less personal information, the better.

Free browser extensions like "" can block advertisers from tracking you based on your online activity. Another called "" can keep your friends' applications from gleaning your personal information.

Clean Up the Past

After you've made your profile more private and less searchable, it's time to clean up anything from the past you wouldn't want the world to know.

One app called "" will search through your entire profile and find any inappropriate content associated with you, including wall posts, likes, and photos. Then you can decide whether to delete, unlike, or untag them. You can also do this manually by going through your "activity log". Don't forget to review your "likes" and "places" as well!

Assume the worst.

Going forward, no matter how "secure" you think your online activity is, everything you put out there is essentially open to the public whether you make it "private" or not. Facebook is like a friend who can't keep a secret. Even if you tell them, "Don't tell anyone this, but..." you learn after getting burned a couple times that the best policy is not to tell that friend anything you don't want everyone to know.

With Facebook and any other internet application, no matter how "private" your settings are, don't post anything unless you'd be comfortable shouting it to a room containing all of your relatives, your professors, your neighbors, your employer and future employers, a couple of murderers, and a squad of police officers.

That means you should also consider whether or not you want to post things like your gender, your birthday, the names of your family members or significant other, and where you go when you're alone.

Present yourself well.

Facebook is a great tool for self-presentation. A Facebook profile is our way of saying, "Look! This is me! This is what I'm all about!". When done honestly, that can be great for a lot of things. However, brutal honesty is not always the best policy when it comes to the Internet.

After you've secured your profile and deleted or diassociated yourself with anything incriminating, it's your responsibility to present a clean face to the world. In today's age, you will be judged by how you showcase yourself online. Everyone will have different opinions about what you do, but if you present yourself in a respectful way, others are more likely to respect you when they look you up.

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