I joined Facebook long before I knew I'd have a career that invites public criticism, which is probably why I felt comfortable writing comments like, "I love littering" and, "Our dorm smells like beer."
Safe to say those posts don't align with my values a decade later, but I didn't remember I'd posted them until last week, when I embarked on a social media cleanse after a video of freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing in college was leaked on Twitter. Its release was meant to smear her, though most people saw her moves as harmless and endearing.
But we hardly go a week without hearing about people whose old posts came back to bite them. Just look to Philly-born comedian Kevin Hart, who's no longer hosting the Oscar's after his homophobic tweets dating to 2009 surfaced.
Here are seven tips for auditing your presence on the internet, a process experts say everyone should employ, whether you're applying to college or joining Congress.
1. Google yourself monthly
Philadelphia social media expert Gerry Moran said folks should get into the habit of googling themselves monthly. If you don't like the top results, publish more frequently on public platforms such as LinkedIn or a personal blog, Moran said.
Rita Friedman, a Philadelphia career coach, suggested job seekers set up a Google Alert for their names (and nicknames) to keep tabs on what's being posted. She said another good way to see all your results is to use your LinkedIn photo to perform a reverse Google Image search.
Also, check hosting services like GoDaddy to make sure you own yourname.com. If you have a relatively unique name, it likely will cost only a few bucks a year to own the domain, and it's well worth it.
2. Adjust privacy settings
Be sure to limit your past posts, so those that were once public can now be viewed only by friends (Settings > Privacy > Limit Past Posts.) You'll also want to be sure only friends can see your future posts.
If you're worried about Instagram and Twitter and don't need those accounts for work purposes, make them private. Moran said if you want a Facebook page or other social account your employer can see, consider creating a second, public page so you can better curate the content.
3. Try a free service like Scrubber
Scrubber connects with your social accounts and flags potentially problematic posts. This didn't work well for my Facebook and Instagram, because of how I've configured those privacy settings, but it did work for Twitter, flagging more than 1,000 potentially embarrassing tweets. The majority were related to my work, because Scrubber flags tweets with political language, which could be helpful for someone applying for a job in government or related fields.
4. Don't ignore Facebook "memories"
No need to groan next time Facebook tells you, "View your memories from this day in history with insert estranged family member and several exes." I've gotten into the habit of viewing these every day, because it provides an easy and approachable way to review everything you've ever posted on Facebook and to delete what you don't want out there. It'll take only a full calendar year. This is how I found a high school-era video of myself dancing the Macarena in a bathing suit.
Make sure you configure your notifications to do this every day. (Settings > Notifications > On This Day > All Memories) You can also use a service like TimeHop.
5. See everything you've done on Facebook
There is a way to see everything you've posted on Facebook, including likes and comments, but it's highly laborious. (Reviewing photos you've posted or been tagged in is easier. Simply click on the photos tab on your profile, and delete or untag the pics you don't want.) Click on your profile and select "Activity Log," where you'll see a list of everything you've done on Facebook, which you can sort by posts, posts you're tagged in, likes and reactions, and comments. On the right side of the screen are years, so you can scroll far back and hide or delete posts you don't want to follow you.
You can also remove a tag from something you're tagged in and alert Facebook if there's something out there about you that's embarrassing or wrong. And if someone else posted something of you that could really hurt — like a photo of you doing something illegal — ask the poster to remove it. Chances are they forgot about it and don't want it out there, either.
6. Trash old tweets
Moran said Twitter is the platform that hiring managers often look to first. If you want to just get rid of your old tweets en masse, try Tweet Delete, a free web app that will delete everything more than a year old. Problem is: It can delete only about 3,200 posts at a time, so you may have to do it in batches. Or you can just ...
7. Manually review old tweets
You can search all your tweets from a specific date range (and delete the bad ones) by using this formula in Twitter's search function: "from:username since:yyyy-mm-dd until:yyyy-mm-dd." It can take awhile to read through them all, but it'll be worth it (and maybe even entertaining). Godspeed.