How do I get over my anxiety about what turns up when people search for me on the internets?
July 7, 2011 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Internet anonymity and lack thereof (I know, I know).

How do I get over my anxiety about what turns up when people search for me on the internets? I am the only person in the world with my name (curse you, parents!). I've been on the net since forever (that is, before the existence of search engines) and used my own name on Usenet and elsewhere. I do not hold the same opinions as I used to, and I'm certainly not as open as I used to be about personal matters. When I search for myself I find myself anxious and depressed to see the old stuff come up -- albeit on the third or fourth page of results, but there nonetheless. For example, I can be found on Usenet arguing about a fringe religion that I cared deeply about at the time, but that is not even of interest to me anymore -- yet there I am, passionately arguing for all eternity. Note: inventing a fake person with the same name won't help, because some of these posts are undeniably mine due to geographical and other references.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It will be hard to complete erase your past, but what you CAN do is elevate a positive online presence for yourself.

Set up blogs, public profiles on various credible sites, and then click click click click on them when googling for your name. This will promote the "good" sites to the top and the "bad" sites lower.
posted by k8t at 7:40 AM on July 7, 2011

Accept it. Move on. It's the new normal.
posted by kjs3 at 7:41 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could contact the admin of specific sites using your name and ask them to "please, for the love of god, could you delete my comments on that thread where I talk about how goat fellatio is the only real way to cure acne."

I've done it. Well not that specifically.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:43 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Realize that probably no one is searching for you on the internets unless you're famous, which you're not since you wouldn't have this problem if you were. (See k8t's answer about the bad stuff being buried by good.) Seriously, who is that curious about you and why? Potential romantic partners? Be upfront with them: "you might find some weird stuff out there, but I assure you I no longer worship Bigfoot as my savior." Potential employers? I don't think that happens as much as you think.
posted by desjardins at 7:55 AM on July 7, 2011

What you do is, in your new blog, post about who you are now and what you learned from your life.

This is a common thing. As a teen, I listened to Rush Limbaugh and thought I was a Republican. I voted for George W. Bush. I supported the Iraq War. Then I grew up, became a Democrat who is pro-choice and believes in things like gay marriage and who found myself horrified by George W. Bush and the Iraq War.

I am who I am now because of who I was then. So are you. Embrace the growth you have made. Acknowledge that this was you. Give hope to other people that they too can change.
posted by inturnaround at 7:59 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Realize that probably no one is searching for you on the internets unless you're famous
What?! Potential employers do look up potential employees - the last figure I saw was over 50% if you include social networking sites (still over 40 if you limit to just search engines) and over 30% rejected an applicant based on what they found. Whether they're going to judge you based on things you wrote online over 10 years ago is a different matter but its wrong to just dismiss the OPs concerns out of hand.
posted by missmagenta at 8:11 AM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

...the last figure I saw...

posted by griphus at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2011

If it helps, here are some of the stats the above poster is talking about:

More Employers Use Social Networks to Check Out Applicants

Numbers from above aren't quite right, but those are the most recent stats from Harris poll, take them with a grain of salt since Careerbuilder sponsored the "study."
posted by juniperesque at 8:28 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another only one in the world here. And I've further compounded it by concocting a completely unique user name and using it across communities AND connecting it explicitly to my actual name (have a field day, bored Googlers). Here is how I deal with it:

1. There is not technical fix as long as you want to stay connected to your name and personal history (you get the bad with the good). I do a tiny bit of cultivation in the form of being aware of what searches of various permutations of my name bring up first and keeping any of those first impressions that I have control over up to date and in the condition I prefer them.

2. Worrying about things like some malicious community having a field day at your expense is like worrying about getting eaten by a bear. Yes, it happens, but not really very often, and you can cut down the chances dramatically by choosing not to poke bears with a stick and taking reasonable precautions when you go camping.

3. Worrying about not being able to get a job (or whatever other search-related life obstacle) is like worrying about getting fired: unless you are doing something active to promote it right now (i.e. contstantly twittering about what a horrible, lazy worker you are) you just have to treat it as one of those bridges you will cross if and when it comes.

4. I take it as a reminder to both work at being the public person I want to be now and accepting the person I have been as I've changed over time. Sure I cringe at things once in a while. Life involves a certain amount of cringing.

5. Other than the very light cultivation mentioned in 1 I don't google myself and I certainly don't dig back into the results. It's a bad habit and a pointless one.
posted by nanojath at 8:32 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

And to answer your question, the answer is flooding. Some good methods of flooding include participating in chip-timed races, joining professional associations, and getting active on your alumni websites and facebook groups you don't mind your name being associated with. Those will dilute your older things past the 3-4 page mark.
posted by juniperesque at 8:36 AM on July 7, 2011

Look on the bright side. Having a unique or nearly unique name means that your profiles, posts, news about you etc. are easily found online. Use that to your advantage with new material — a blog, comments, professionally-oriented social networks (Google+, LinkedIn, Quora) etc. The new stuff will push the old stuff out of site, and will result in positive findings by anyone checking you out.
posted by beagle at 9:24 AM on July 7, 2011

I agree with many of the above comments, especially around creating new content and references to crowd out the old. As for employers, dates, etc., searching for you, they'll rarely look past the first couple pages of results. Now, if you decide to run for high-profile public office, you may be in trouble. But then, really, it just becomes a test of your political ability to explain away old behavior and opinions. After all, George W. Bush used illegal drugs as a younger man, and he became a two-term President of the United States.
posted by maxim0512 at 9:25 AM on July 7, 2011

You just need to convince Google that those results are not relevant about you anymore by giving Google newer and more interesting things to show instead. Lots of sites with decent PageRank can do this. I don't know what you do professionally, but in programming at least, there are sites like StackOverflow and GitHub that you can put your real name on that tend to do well in Google results. Same for Twitter, LinkedIn, flickr, or whatever other sites you might have public profiles on. Maintain public personas there, even if very low activity ones. Google prefers new stuff over old stuff. It also helps to link things together, eg linking Twitter from LinkedIn - that makes Google prefer those sites over other unlinked ones that just happen to contain your name.

That's focused on changing the reality, though. In terms of dealing with the anxiety, I'm not sure what to tell you. At least for me, I'm way more skeptical of people who have zero internet traces than people who have embarrassing old records. I know that doesn't feel like a dominant view right now (and it's not), but it's only going to get better over time. Everyone is going to have things on the internet about them that they're not super proud of because the internet doesn't forget and everyone was young and stupid once.
posted by heresiarch at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2011

polite emails to site admins can work a charm.

Following that a DMCA takedown notice might also work (your writings are your copyright!)
posted by jannw at 10:56 AM on July 7, 2011

Polite emails to admins can work. Recently I sent one to a mefi-esqe site that began displaying previously private messages and profile information publicly, and they had it changed site-wide the next day. This scenario may not apply to you, but you could end up doing some other people good as well.
posted by Adam_S at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2011

« Older Putting on the hotness.   |   End of life organization? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.