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Protecting Your Online Reputation

It’s 2016. If you’re online, you have an online reputation—and this is as true for your kids as it is for you. Our digital age has made it easier than ever for past comments, opinions, and actions to follow us around. However, there are a few steps you and your family members can take to make sure that your digital reputation remains squeaky clean.

Present Yourself Well

Sometimes the best advice is the most obvious. Given that people will judge you based on your digital profiles, it’s best to make your profiles look good. Choose appropriate pictures, keep an eye on spelling and grammar, and keep things clean. Remember to keep information across profiles consistent. And keep in mind: sometimes it’s best to keep information on profiles as limited as possible. Remind your kids that they don’t need to list their city on their Xbox Live profile nor have their phone number visible on their Facebook page.

Review Privacy Settings

It’s essential that you and your family review the privacy settings for all of your accounts. Services like Facebook, Twitter, Xbox Live, and more have made it very easy to control who can see what’s on personal profiles. There’s no reason for your kids to share their digital lives with people who aren’t friends and family, so keep those privacy settings tight.

Be Sceptical of Privacy

We know. We just told you to use your privacy settings to make sure that only friends can see what you do. But, like journalist Olivia Nuzzi writes, “Dance like no one is watching; email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.” It’s important to remember that the privacy afforded by things like email is not absolute. Emails can be forwarded. Pictures can be saved. Security can be breached. Remind your kids that it’s easy for chats and text conversations to be screen captured and shared widely. The best defence here is prevention: save intimate conversations for face-to-face meetings and be careful of what gets said over digital mediums.

Ask: “What Would Grandma Think?”

Kids might not like that grandma is following them on Facebook, but again, this is 2016 and it’s easier than ever for people to check up on each other’s online activity. That includes grandma, and it also includes teachers, employers, coaches, the police, and potential significant others. Remind your kids that what they do in public on sites like Facebook is different than what they do in public in a place like McDonalds. Obviously it’s best to behave well in both places, but it’s important to remember that behaviour in digital spaces is a) visible to everyone and b) has the potential to live online forever.

Reflect Before Responding

Getting involved in toxic fights and arguments online is one sure-fire way to tank an online reputation. Ask yourself: is this really important?

Make Time for Digital Cleaning

Now and again, go over your digital history (like old Facebook posts) and scrub things that don’t make for a good online reputation. If you have teenagers, do this exercise with them now and again. We bet they’ll find enough in their digital past to be embarrassed about, which might make them think of their digital future.

The Bottom Line

The easiest way to maintain a good digital reputation is to behave well online. It helps to remember to think of everything that happens in the digital world as public, even while you take steps like maintaining tight privacy settings. Whether you want one or not, if you have a digital life, you have a digital reputation too.