The way you feel now about all those photos of you at the beach, in your suit, body-proud, tanned and drinking — liberation and joy — may end up making you feel completely different in your near future — trapped and ashamed. No matter how young you may be, reading these words, you need to start thinking long-game when it comes to your online reputation.
You’re at the mercy of the Panopticon: networked cameras are almost ubiquitous
Your online reputation on Google Search is a culmination of all your separate, discrete (or indiscreet) choices — sort of like tattoos — and it’s always easier to not get inked in the first place than it is live with the consequences or go through the pain and expense of having all of your tribal, prison, lower-back, ankle, neck, and face tattoos removed.
Easier said than done
The way you want to be perceived really changes over time, from the feeling of abandon too many of us have in high school to the feeling of reckless abandon that too many people film and photograph over Spring Break in college, to the feeling of righteous indignation too many of us feel all through our 20s, to the feeling of abject panic and regret as all of this brave, courageous, fearless, stupid abandon comes to roost and haunt us on Google Images, YouTube, and Google Search.
Do we ever really know how stupid we are?
When my young friends were in their 20s, they were very happy to be live photo-blogged and I captured them shamelessly: at coffee, at parties, at dinner, and all over. Now that they’ve been through sundry Ivyesque graduate programs, they’ve become way more serious and have all come to me, asking me to curate and remove photos that their names bring up on Google Images. Of course I do — because I love them; but I probably wouldn’t do the same thing for you.
I, on the other hand, desired to become a US Senator since I was 16, so I limited the true idiocy of my choices — and, because I grew up Catholic, my natural guilt and self-loathing generally won every fight it had with my whimsical and devil-may-care self. I always told Mark that every bit of spontaneity I have ever exhibited has always been emulated for effect, since all of these spot-and-brave decisions have always been suffered over and considered for months. “Sometimes you just gotta say WTF” has never become an essential part of any fiber of my being, though I would love people to think it’s essential to who I am. Nope.
I also came up pre-Internet and pre-social media, so embarrassing me would require way too much work for most people: digging up shameful photos, scanning them, uploading them, and whatnot; finally, my threshold for shame pain is massive because I fancy most slights online to be free publicity of my brand — so I am surely less delicate — more durable — than my tenderfoot friends.
So, what if it’s too late — I’ve already made myself a complete arse?
You can always email me if you’re freaking out and don’t know what to do. But first, you should check to see if you know who controls any and all of those terrible “tattoos” that ink up your online reputation, like unfortunate photos on Google Images. Can you un-tag or report images of you on Facebook and Google+ that you don’t want online? Do you know the folks? Do they like you enough to remove the photo, completely, from everywhere it exists online (because, you know, the internet can now recognize your face so tagging, titling, and labeling is becoming less essential in the age of Big Data and real-time facial recognition and cross-referencing. You can untag until you’re blue in the face and it might not matter anymore).
So, reach out to your friends and quote the Bible at them: 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” See if that helps. Who can resist the Word of God as spake by King James?
If they don’t love you enough anymore and refuse to remove online things that pain you, consider it Karma — karmic feedback is a bitch (don’t worry, you always email me, call me at +1 (202) 869-3210 Ext 0001 or feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call with me).
Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle
Always remember, when you want folks to help you who don’t have to, being nice always works better than siccing a dog (or in your case, maybe your lawyer) at ’em.
What can I do if my friends resent me and won’t budge?
All you can do, really, is make sure you take it upon yourself to feed the hungry, toothy, maw of Google Search, including video, Picasa, Flickr, Google+, Tumblr, WordPress, WordPress.com, Facebook, Twitter, TwitPic, LinkedIn and your corporate, foundation, and business web pages.
And, if you already have pages populated online, you need to explore all your photo and image “container” platforms, and you need to see if there are ways to either directly change the file name to reflect your name, chris-abraham.jpg. Then you need to explore to see if you’re allowed to intentionally tag each photo: you can do that on Flickr, Facebook, and Google+ for sure — and there might be others.
If you’re inserting photos into articles or posts that you control, you need to make sure file names reflect your name, preferably with dashes or underscores (as the internet sometimes gets confused by spaces). And if your image insertion tool — or you — know how to add an ALT tag or a title tag to your photo, do so — but don’t just describe the photo, say something like “Portrait of Chris Abraham” or “Official Photo of Chris Abraham” — Google wants associative and descriptive contextual content — and you need to do a much better job than everyone else on Google Search in order to become the top results under your name — better, even, than the folks who are out to mock, embarrass, and shame you.
Google cares about most relevant, yes, but it also prefers the most recent, the most timely, and also the most interconnected and cross-referenced — as well as content that has the most descriptive and consistent “meta data:” the following photo is indeed a photo of Chris Abraham, most likely the American one, in his 40s, who lives most of his life in Arlington, VA. That’s all Google really wants and you can be the very best at that because you knows you like you do? Do it!
Most of you were either stupid, sort-sighted, immortal, young, or in different work and a different place when you got all your full-body Yakuza-style, online reputation tattoos. Don’t worry but it does suck. As they say, youth is wasted on the young.
It probably isn’t that bad, really
You’re probably too much of a control freak and you’re the only one who feels a little too powerless — you’ve been hurt before and are a little sensitive, now aren’t you? While I think you deserve to have your perfect reflection online – as well as everywhere else — the internet really isn’t like that. One of the things you might want to do is work on your tolerance, your sense of humor, your level of “let go, let Google.” Are you really that ashamed of the photo of your bad mustache, your bad haircut, your bad goatee, or that fat period we all suffered through with you?
So, take a second, take a breath, and reconsider your place in the world
Let me really close by saying the thing that makes you the most beautiful are the scars of your life and of your living: your flaws and your humanity. Consider carefully how curated you need your life to be. Re-sculpting your life online could be time-consuming, resource-intensive, and expensive.
Good luck and Godspeed!