How many times have you heard, “a first impression is a lasting impression?” First impressions are truly what people will remember you by and carry forward in future conversations with others. I don’t think anyone inherently wants to carry forward a negative perception of themselves, but as we enter into an ever-evolving technological and digital age, we need to be aware what we say and do online is a permanent reflection; a lasting impression, that people can easily recall from the WEB’s history. Even if you do your best to delete your tracks, somebody somewhere has a digital copy on their computer.  What we say and do on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace – what images/videos we post on Flickr, TwitPic, Plixi, YouTube – either can have a profound influence or be used for purposes of incrimination. It is really up to you how wisely or foolishly you use the tools you have before you.

So .. have you made some misguided steps in the short history that you have had access to the Internet? No fear, the world is not going to come to an end, but you will need to improve the image that you portray and there might be some long work ahead to clean up what you have said or done. Here is some helpful advice:

  1. Beware of social paparazzi: Have a good time in social gatherings, but keep in mind that you never know when the spotlight might shine on you. (In other words, when someone tempts you to do a keg stand, think twice before assuming the position.) You wouldn’t want damaging pictures or videos surfacing on the Internet featuring you as the star.
  2. Do your own PR: The trick to maintaining a positive online image is to increase the favorable content out there. Create a professional Web site or publish your resume online (leaving out your street address, Social Security number and other personal information). You can also create a blog that focuses on your industry or hobbies. Be sure to keep them updated and you’ll impress anyone who Googles your name.
  3. Use technology wisely: You have unprecedented access to a POWERFUL TOOL; the Internet. 15 years ago the only Internet access I had was AOL and that was on dialup at 14400 kbps. Yeah – dating myself here, but I had to use a phone modem and I did not have the luxury of Broadband access or Cable modem/DSL .. Heck, all I wanted in college was a beeper. All the cool kids had beepers and cell phones were more less bag phones that only worked plugged into your car. Today kids are getting cell phones at 10 years old and their phones allow them to connect to the Internet to update Twitter and Facebook and unlimited texting plans. In short, know what you have within your reach and make a wise decision on how you use it … it can and will come back around to either help you or hurt you.
  4. Bring in the authorities: If you come across inappropriate personal information that does not shed a “favorable light” on you, politely request of the source behind the content (generally a “Webmaser” or domain owner) to remove the content and provide a short justification for your request. If you do not get an immediate response, know what it may take a little persistence to grab someone’s attention to listen to your concern and fulfill your request. You might need a big can of elbow grease if you have a lot of cleaning up to do. You may also consider a paid service that will act on your behalf to scrub the web of your careless decisions and provide a healthier online presence.

In the end, you have to remember what you do and say on the Internet is PUBLIC RECORD. You willingly FORFEIT any rights of PRIVACY. Most websites such as Twitter, Facebook & MySpace own the words you say and the images you post to their services. These are free services and they OWN your content and can freely use anything you have said at their sole discretion. I encourage you to read their terms of service and privacy policy (link is usually found at the bottom of each page of their website).