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Changing Your Name Is Not Enough to Escape Your Internet Past

The Automatic Name Change
Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently suggested to the Wall Street Journal that, in the future, young people may be given the opportunity to automatically change their names. Schmidt opines that for many, the name change will be necessary to distance themselves from youthful indiscretions recorded online. In an age where 75% of recruiters check out prospective employees online, it makes sense to dissociate yourself from lurid pictures and drunken comments.

Out Damn Spot
Merely changing your name is not the answer. Sure, it might hide your past from the casual observer, but to someone actually doing some digging, a name change is not much of a hurdle. As more and more people change their names, the hurdle becomes even lower. At some point, there will be an online database directly matching old names with new names. The only real solution is to avoid having your untoward information posted to the internet in the first place. Once you post it, there is no guarantee you will ever be able to remove it or even distance yourself from it. If someone has already downloaded your comments or pictures, they can always repost the information faster than you can ever pull it down. If the information is particularly salacious or incriminating, it may spread quickly, becoming a viral scarlet letter on your otherwise impeccable background.

Reputation Management Starts With Friends
The key is to avoid posting, or posing for, anything you might later regret. While avoiding embarrassing antics altogether would be ideal, if you cannot quite manage that feat, consider discussing the situation with the amateur journalists and photojournalists in your entourage, namely your friends. While an embarrassing photo posted to Facebook might provide a few hours of entertainment, the fact that it may cost you even one employment opportunity makes the cost of internet publication too high. Simply discussing with your friends and family the ramifications of posting embarrassing information online, is often all it takes to avoid a reputation meltdown. And if you have children, it is never to early (or late) to warn them about the dangers of sharing TMI (too much information) online.

Brett Trout

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