Googled Yourself Lately? Tips for Professionalizing Your Web Presence

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EgO at UMassEgO at UMass

As this Chronicle article, Facebooking for the Tenure Track, (which you should read) explains, now is as good a time as any to take control over your web presence. Students, colleagues, professors, employers — potential dates — they're all Googling and Facebooking, and sometimes finding more than what you had expected.

Just last month after running a Google search on myself, I found myself listed, unauthorized, on a website called Spock. The site had lifted my full name, location, birthday, age, a silly photo, and friend list from my centuries-old, password-protected MySpace profile (which had been set to private) and posted that information in a public listing. Happily, after emailing the company, the information was immediately removed. But a lesson was learned. It's probably no longer realistic to be anonymous on the web. But what can you do to limit the circulation of damaging information and even professionalize your web presence?

Facebook Friend Lists
Articles with tips to protect yourself on Facebook abound and include such no-brainers as "set your profile to private" and "don't post images of yourself drunk and dancing on bar tables." But I have found that one of the most useful but underused strategies is to create "Friend Lists" and then assign each list different privacy settings. For instance, while your 10 closest friends might have access to your full account, you can keep separate Friend Lists for acquaintances, old high school friends you wished hadn't found you, and your mother, who recently and inexplicably set up an account.

To do this, from the top menu, go to "Friends." On the left-side menu, at the bottom of the "Lists" already created, you'll see a little plus sign. Click it to create a new Friend List. Once you've created the lists you want, from the top menu go to Settings —> Privacy Settings —> Profile. From each drop-down menu (i.e., Profile, Status, Photos Tagged of You), choose "Customize." Under "Who Can See This?" choose "Some Friends." You will now have the option to type in a friend list. Facebook even allows you to preview your profile as a certain friend would see it so there is no doubt about who has access to what.

By the time you're finished here, that professor who friended you will be able to see little more than your name.

(Caveat: customizing Friend List privacy settings does not necessarily give you free license; anything on the web is still, well, on the web.)

Delete Accounts on Old Social Networking Sites
Do you have a Friendster account you haven't looked at in 5 years? You were 5 years younger; it probably has something embarrassing on it. Delete accounts for any social networking sites you are no longer using (and monitoring) regularly.

Run a Narrow Google Search
You should (and probably do) Google yourself occasionally. But don't take false comfort in the fact that your name is John Smith and therefore no one will ever be able to find you. In addition to your general Google search, attach keywords that any self-respecting stalker would use to narrow the results. "John Smith UMass" is a pretty good start. Then take action. Remove offending content you have control over; contact websites that are posting hazardous information and ask them to remove it. (See incident with Spock above.)

Build a Professional Web Presence
Finally, taking control of your web presence is not just purging questionable content; it is also a personal PR campaign to define how you want the world to see you. The Chronicle article has some great suggestions to that end. But you might also consider creating a simple, concise professional webpage on UMass's server or writing a blog addressing your research interests via one of the numerous blog hosts, including Blogger,, or UMass's own Blogs at UMass Amherst. I have a friend, for instance, whose professional interests blog, which she listed on her resume and business card, helped her land a (nonacademic) job.

And of course, post a blurb about your research and teaching interests on our wiki's Grad Student Bio page.

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