From Facebook to Twitter to blogs, many people share much of our lives online. But there can be a downside: over-sharing. The Internet has become the go-to resource to destroy someone’s life online, which in turn means their offline life gets turned upside down, too.
So how can you check, monitor and, if necessary, improve your online reputation?
Digital Lifestyle Expert Mario Armstrong shared his top tips on “The Early Show” to help you get in control of how you appear on the Internet.
Armstrong said it’s vital that people realize how important this really is going forward.
"My fear is a lot of people aren’t understanding this right now," he said. "They don’t understand this is going to explode. Basically, your online expression is your first impression. You don’t get a chance anymore to say, ‘Hi, I’m Mario. Here’s what I’m about.’ The Web is it doing that for you."
He continued, “You’re seeing people also put up information that may not be appropriate about you. You may be doing it yourself or others could be doing it. That could result in kids losing out on college scholarships. I know kids that have lost scholarship opportunities because they haven’t seen the information about them on the Web. Or people losing out on career promotions at their jobs. Or the other folks that are not understanding that this is a massive issue of people putting up what I call e-venge - taking revenge out on you on the Web because they can do so.”
"Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge noted there’s no one monitoring this. So how can you take control of your reputation?
You search your own name and start looking to see what’s out there, Armstrong said.
"Pay attention to what you’re doing in social media," he added. "You have to be aware and vigilant about what you’re putting on Twitter and Facebook. Those are kind of the obvious things."
But there are other sites that are cataloging your life. Armstrong said they gather information on everything about you, from your home value to your ethnicity and even where you live and your income.
Search engines, such as ZabaSearch, Spokeo, and Honestly.com, he said, were created for the express purpose of finding people.
He said these sites gather publicly accessible information and bring it together into a profile about you.
"It’s legal, it’s legit. It’s your utility bills. It’s your public records. Your private, personal property levels. All of the information in the varying data bases," Armstrong said. "But they bring all of the information together into one screen. That’s why it’s so powerful. You’re talking about what private investigators used to take months, if not years to compile all of this information and you can do it in a matter of clicks."
The sites enable people to track each other.
"If you’re going on a date, you don’t know much about the individual, you can use the site. My sister has done that," Armstrong said. "You use the sites to see, you know, is he lying about where he is. Guys out there, be forewarned, the information is out there. I should say with some of the sites, we need to have a little bit of a warning, since it’s publicly accessible information from government databases and others, some may not be exact or precise and accurate."
The dissemination of inaccurate information is now becoming an issue for many people.
Armstrong said it happens when people post information about you that you don’t know exists.
"They’re taking it out on the Web because they can hide (in) the veil of the Internet and they can be anonymous and post all types of information that can really damage your character and damage your opportunities," he said.
To fight back, Armstrong recommends contacting the people-based search engines directly.
"If you scroll right down to the bottom, hit the privacy tab at the bottom, it will give you the steps to remove yourself from the sites, but the information is publicly accessible," he explained. "If another site pops up, you have the same problem."
If this becomes an issue for you, Armstrong said, you can take it a step further and hire someone to protect you online with a service, such as Reputation.com.
"(It’s a) phenomenal service that charges you $8 all the way up to $58 a month depending on the level of protection you need. They help you monitor the online snapshot, if you will. They can clean it up, they can help maintain it and make sure the content is coming from you, it’s your side of the story."
Other services include MetalRabbitMedia.com and Trackur.com.
If you’re looking to watch your reputation for free, Armstrong recommends these tips:
1. Set up Google alerts for your name. You’ll receive an e-mail any time your name appears on the web.
2. Build your brand. Buy your name as a website or buy it for your kids. Even if they’re not old enough to have an on-line presence yet, buy it so they’re secure and create a blog to customize your content.
3. Customize Facebook settings. Photos get you in trouble the most. You want to customize it so if you’re not tagged in photos, you don’t have to worry about inappropriate images showing up on your profile page.
4. Monitor search engine photos. You can type in your name to a search engine and click on images and can show you what images are associated with your name out on the internet. Make sure you’re uploading new paragraphs with your name in it. So Mario Armstrong’s wedding or Mario Armstrong’s graduation photo. That way the images that you want to appear, will.