Manage your online persona with Web tools


POSTED: Monday, November 17, 2008

If you are the parent of a Digital Slob, or the wife, or the roommate, or the court-appointed guardian, or the county health inspector, you've no doubt told him to clean up his act.

We moan, but picking up after ourselves is a necessary skill if we want to present an acceptable image to the outside world.

But the next time you yell, “;Clean up your mess!”; to your nearest and dearest Slob, you might want to add, “;and don't forget your Facebook page!”;

The Chicago Tribune reported last month that the digital dirty laundry of some college applicants is being sent to admissions offices by whistle-blowers, often anonymous sources who refuse to give their names on condition that they have a child who also wants to get into the same university.

Clearly, in the Digital Age, you need to keep your friends close, your Facebook friends closer and that photo of you in the snow wearing nothing but a Jedi lightsaber locked down under the strictest of privacy settings.

As we concluded last week, when you put your foot in your mouth online, it never comes out again, and the ripple effects can be disastrous. Still, there are ways to monitor how close your hoof is getting to your pie hole, and to mitigate the damage:

Stay alert: Let's say I alleged something totally untrue about someone and posted it online: “;Joe Jonas broke up with Taylor Swift because she has cooties.”;

The teen country singer's publicity team no doubt has a Google Alert set up to inform them via e-mail whenever her name is mentioned online. So soon, Taylor will be aware of my baldfaced lie (by the way, I think you're totally cool, Taylor, and you'll find a better guy, one who deserves you. And, if by some weird coincidence you actually do have cooties, maybe your Mr. Right will, too, and then you, him and both your sets of cooties will all live happily ever after).

But you don't have to be jilted by a boy-band singer to get this to work. Just go to google.com/alerts and type in your name, and any news about you, scurrilous or otherwise, will be e-mailed to you daily.

PR blitz: If top search results link your name to red-flag words like “;arraigned,”; “;unknown substance”; or “;latest Mike Myers high-concept comedy,”; then roll up your sleeves and drown it all out with positive press.

Take 317 photos of yourself hugging shelter pets and upload them to Flickr.com. Put a bow on your younger brother's old bicycle and force him to pretend you just gave it to him as you sing “;Happy Birthday”; on a YouTube video. Write a glowing 16,000-word review of “;Chicken Soup for the Soul”; on Amazon.com.

Combined, the sheer volume of all this new data should push the seedy underbelly of your online existence off the first few search-results pages, at least.

Rebirth and reboot: If your online persona is a hopeless cause, consider this drastic step: Delete all your accounts and create new ones with the phrase “;thereal,”; as in TheRealJohnSmith. Many Web celebs have people pretending to be them online, and often the actual celebs must put “;thereal”; in front of their name to distinguish themselves from impostors.

Make the bad you the “;fake you.”; Your college admissions officer might just thank you for it.

Reach Star-Bulletin columnist Curt Brandao and subscribe to the free “;digitalslobpod”; podcast at digitalslob.com.