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It is never too soon - and you are never too young -
to start controlling your image online

November 3rd, 2011

We are at an interesting point in the Internet as a part of our collective consciousness: When I was young, the "internet" was something only accessed by geeks with specialized knowledge and a definite effort. Nowadays, it is a defacto requirement of day-to-day life.

The "interesting point" is this: When I was a kid, what I did on or off-line, whether it was stupid, dangerous or just plain silly had an extremely short half life: No one really used the 'net and there certainly weren't such things as search engines that catalogued everything, nor did anyone really think of saving data for future use - After all, this 'Internet Thing' was just a passing fancy for nerdy kids, right ?

Fast forward to today, where everything - and I really do mean everything is archived. Not only by search engines and social media networks, but sometimes, by the darker elements of society.

One of the best examples of that 'darker element' was last year, when there was a minor scandal at my daughters' grade school involving sexting: More than a couple of young girls took pictures of themselves, partially or completely unclothed and sent them to their "true loves" - "Love", at that age, of course, is fleeting and when the inevitable breakup occurs, teens and pre-teens being whom they are, sometimes take great offense at the heartbreak and look to lash out: Some of those by sending above-mentioned photos around their social networks with predictably embarrassing results all around.

Now, that's pretty embarrassing, no doubt, but that's not where the real damage can happen: Take that same young lady or young men (boys certainly aren't immune from compromising self-photography, either!) who sent a picture on to a significant other.

Now, fast-forward fifteen years: The folly of youth is long-forgotton as one enters the corporate work world... right ?

It never ceases to amaze me just how long people can hold a grudge for real or imagined transgressions. Suddenly, those photos you thought were a long-past childhood embarrassment appear in your new employers' inbox; Or worse, if you work anywhere near the public: In a media outlets' inbox. Bye bye exciting career; Hello ditch-digger, burger flipper and 'floor sanitory maintenance engineer' (a fancy title for "mop pusher").

Some of you, especially the younger readers, might be smugly saying to yourself "Ahh, but I was never foolish enough to take pictures of myself in the buff! I'm safe!" - Are you ?

How many times have you posted about that wicked bush bash you attended last weekend where you got really wasted and "totally made out with those hot chicks, even though they were really wasted themselves and then ran from the cops when you threw the newspaper box through the high school front window" ? Or shared some laughs on Facebook with your buds about that mind-blowing acid trip all of you took ? Or the several dozen tweets you made about the hillarious flash-mob you took part in where you happened to "find" new Nikes in the store you mobbed ?

All harmless, childish fun, right ? Kids will be kids, right ?

Not always. More and more employers today, as a standard part of their employment hiring practices, scan search engines and social networks for the names of their potential new recruits.

Here is the real kicker: They don't care that you were fourteen when you stole the neighbours' car. They don't care that you were only sixteen when you smoked a half-pound of weed and bragged about it for a week. What they do care about is the fact that your name was tied to the act and was found by a trivial Google search. In fact, it's not even that they "care" that it's your name tied to the criminal or embarrassing acts, but that it would be their company name that would be tied to those same acts by their customers, investors or business partners.

You won't be asked to explain. You won't be "given a chance". You won't be forgiven for 'kids being kids'.

You simply will not get a phone call. Ever.

I'm not on a moral high horse: I'm not even trying to say don't do silly and stupid things as a teenager; For one reason, you wouldn't listen to some random Internet marketing guy and for the other, I did it all myself <big grin>.


Do you really want to brag about it - or even refer to it - on Facebook, Twitter, your personal web page, or even in email to a friend (who may, years later, decide that juicy tidbit you've just admitted to would make a really nice form of revenge for stealing his girlfriend the night of the prom ?")

Remember: The Internet doesn't just have a long memory: It never forgets. Which means that a whole host of people will never forget, either, even though you really, really wish they would...

Marc Bissonnette, Ontario, Canada

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