How to Own Your Online Narrative — Even When the Internet Owns You People depend on the internet for answers, but controlling the information online about you can be difficult. Here's how to own your narrative when the internet owns you.
- You can't fix what you don't know, so it's important to know what shows up under your name online.
- Our digital footprint is an asset and is more normalized today than in previous generations.
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We must be mindful of what we post online, with 60% of companies admitting they look to social media as a method of vetting potential job candidates, according to CareerBuilder. They also found one in four companies reprimanded an existing employee for something they posted online, and even the C-suite and board aren't immune.
And it's not just public-facing data–everywhere we go online leaves a trail of cookies and data behind. Our email addresses and passwords can show up in major data breaches, like what occurred last year with companies like Okta, MOVEit and LastPass.
Companies — and, well, the internet — are increasingly collecting our data, and, depending on where you live, the law doesn't do much to protect your privacy. This data is, in turn, being used to train AI models and other technologies, and there's not a lot of transparency in how it's leveraged and sold.
Web3 offers a number of digital identity solutions, but there's skepticism about how well they work. Although there's no easy button, there are steps we can take to control our digital identities while providing guidance to employees.
To be or not to be anonymous?
We have more ways to connect today than ever — there's a social platform for every interest, big or small, and deciding whether you want to present as yourself when signing up and posting is important.
Social media today is focused on influencers and public personas over real people, and it's not uncommon for prominent people to use anonymous accounts with fictional names like Beff Jezos and cartoon characters for profile pics. This is especially prevalent in the crypto space and creative fields, like artists and musicians.
By contrast, many influencers and public figures, especially journalists, use their real names (although they often use anonymous burner accounts). So long as you stick to that decision, there's no right or wrong answer.
Consider Dream, the Minecraft streamer who garnered over three billion views on his Minecraft streams while concealing his identity. His career hasn't been the same since his 2022 face reveal, as he began receiving a lot of online hate. He has since deleted his unmasking video from YouTube, something Jezos, the leader of the effective accelerationism (e/acc) movement doxxed by the media as Guillaume Verdon, can't do.
The difference between these men was their digital footprint, as Verdon's online activity was easier to trace back to him.
Controlling your digital footprint
J.P. Morgan recently published an article on digital identity called "Assessing Web3's Building Blocks." In it, they describe four factors that contribute to our digital ID.
- Identifiers: Our names, email, addresses, and social handles.
- Identity Attributes: Data points about us, like education or employment.
- Reputation: Our online persona, contributions, affiliations, and followings.
- Digital Collectibles & Assets: Anything we own.
Web3 solutions like the fediverse and wallets with soul-bound tokens aim to combine these, removing them from centralized servers and placing control of this data back into our hands. Today, it's difficult to migrate between platforms, as we don't really own our followers on Instagram or X, and the next generation of the internet aims to fix that.
This power comes with responsibilities, however, like protecting our passwords from cyber threats. Redundancy is important for risk management, and you never want a single point of failure. Should your blockchain wallet be hacked, you could lose everything forever, with nobody able to help you recover it.
And regardless of whether these solutions ever become commonplace, there are steps we can take to protect our digital identity better.
1. Use single sign-on
With features like single sign-on, it's easier than ever to log in to apps and services using your account with companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. This limits the potential damage during a data breach, as the tokenized login won't compromise your other accounts.
Using SSO removes duplicate credentials, adding a layer of security, and you don't need to use a password manager like LastPass, which lost customer trust after it was compromised last year.
2. Limit app access
Mobile devices are getting better about warning us which apps have access to what data, and it's a good idea to limit access as much as possible. Social networks like Snapchat and TikTok don't need full access to your photos and location information, so it's always best to limit what they access, especially when the app isn't in use.
3. Keep it professional
Be aware that everything you post to the internet is forever, and this is true whether it's in public or in DMs. It's not uncommon to see people leaking private messages with each other on main during an argument, and reputations are often ruined this way. Celebrities like Drake and Justin Bieber had their DMs leaked, and it's best to assume yours can be, too.
Keep things professional whenever communicating on the internet. This way, you don't have to worry about being compromised by a leak and ending up canceled.
4. Regularly audit your presence
You can't fix what you don't know, so it's important to know what shows up under your name online. Make it a habit to search your name online to see the results regularly. This will help you understand how you're viewed by others while allowing you to make any necessary changes.
5. Involve your community
Nearly half of consumers (49%) trust online reviews as much as friends and family recommend. This means you can make a greater impact by having others sing your praises rather than doing it yourself. Find ways to solicit organic, positive feedback from clients to maximize your positive online presence.
Our digital footprint is an asset and is more normalized today than in previous generations. The internet is a prominent part of modern culture, and it's important to leave a good impression while using it because it may be your last. Be mindful of what data you leave everywhere — your next job or client may depend on it.