A future of muddy footprints

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You may not pay much attention to what you post on your Facebook wall, But your online footprint can come back to haunt you with a simple Google search. Grace Benac reports

When Dafina Karadjova decided to Google search her own name, she found an unpleasant surprise.

Sitting on the page as the seventeenth link was a slang-heavy, unpunctuated comment that she posted to Facebook when she was still in high school.

The third-year biology student was more than a little shocked to see that a comment she posted in the ninth grade was so easy for anyone to find.

“I don’t even remember when or why I wrote those posts,” says Karadjova. “The way I used Facebook in high school was way different from how I use it now.”

Along with several other 2006-era Facebook posts, a few of her profile pictures from Twitter popped up in Google images after her name was keyed in.

She deleted the posts, but that still didn’t solve the problem.

How could her high school posts still pop up on a Google Search after she had removed them?

Facebook’s help section says the posts were visible because they had been shared on a public group and cached by search engines like Google.

Caching is the temporary storage of web pages and images to help the search engine pull up results faster and ease up on bandwidth usage. The posts will show up until Google’s bot re-crawls, or browses, the updated version of the page.

Facebook’s help centre recommended that Karadjova remove the post and contact the search engine’s support team. She was directed to a webmaster’s page which informed her that Google has limited control over search results, and refuses to remove content except in cases where confidential data is exposed.

While these comments and pictures don’t implicate her in any criminal activity, the LOL-speak and jokes don’t quite match up with the professional, achievement-oriented profile Karadjova presents of herself in her LinkedIn page, also visible in her Google search.

Karadjova is wise to be concerned. She’s planning on applying to medical school or a graduate program next year.

Many grad school admissions committees are now doing online searches of applicants.

“Anything posted online can have an effect,” says Dan Vassilou, manager of recruitment and administration for Ryerson’s MBA program. While he wouldn’t divulge any specific details about the school’s screening process, Vassilou didn’t rule out the possibility that information posted online could be a deciding factor.

“The internet is an amazing tool. Why not use it?” he said.

An unchecked online footprint may be the kiss of death for students hoping to work in business. A recent survey done by Career Builder, a Canadian based job hunting site, showed that 10 per cent of Canadian employers check up on applicants online, and roughly 20 per cent intend to start doing so in the future.

“[An] outsider’s impression is so important,” says Kathryn Bewley, who teaches auditing and accounting at Ted Rogers School of Business Management. “Any indiscretions, even during undergrad years, that put the person’s trustworthiness in question can damage their reputation.”

Piotr Makuch, a fourth-year sociology student, is all too aware of this fact, and curates his Google+, Facebook and Twitter accounts accordingly. But Makuch says that a positive online presence is just one of many qualities employers are looking for in new hires. “If you went into a job interview with a bad haircut, that would be a factor working against you. Same with a bad tweet. It’s a factor, but not necessarily the deciding one.”

Fear of online oversharing drives some students, like second-year

[An] outsider’s impression is so important.

— Kathryn Bewley,

teaches accounting and auditing at TRSBMgraphic communications major Heidi Shaheen, to leave out key information in social networking profiles. Shaheen has chosen to go a step further and make her Facebook profile more employer-friendly.

“I deleted all of my religious and political affiliations. It keeps my profile more neutral in the eyes of the public. I also removed all of my old photo albums from high school.”

Shaheen says an experience with Google inspired her to tighten up her online identity.

“Some of my friends’ [Facebook] profile pictures were visible on Google images — bathroom mirror pictures, things that you wouldn’t want out there for the world to see. That really made me think.”

Karadjova says that Googling herself has been a jarring, yet valuable learning experience.

“If stuff I’ve written in 2006 comes up in a search, it really makes me think twice about what I say on Twitter and Facebook, not knowing who could be reading it years from now, how it could be interpreted and how that might affect my future.”

Improving your online presence

Google yourself

See what you’ve got to work with. If you see negative content popping up from social media sites or blogs, check with the webmaster to have it deleted. If possible, delete it yourself.

Get good cred

It’s going to take some time for those pages to get cached, so do the work to make sure those posts come up later on your search. Post better, more professional content regularly. Get a Linkedin profile that will pop up on your search to show your professionalism and goals.

Keep it up

Now it’s time to maintain that online persona. Refrain from posting photos, comments or statuses that will look bad on you. Oh, and try to avoid Facebook or Twitter while drunk. That’s bad news.

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