We've been talking a lot about online security and privacy lately, and I figured this was a good time to reiterate what we all really should know, but sometimes forget: There is no such thing as "privacy" on the web. Just like your mother used to tell you, if you want to keep a secret, you'd better keep it yourself. The web is no different, and in fact, it gives gossips and newsmongers a larger bullhorn.
It seems like daily we hear stories of some now-famous person being humiliated by photos or videos of themselves during their younger, wilder days, being posted online - like this crazy stunt by our current Vice President (Aww, Joe, you're so crazy! Ha ha!). The ones we don't hear about in the national news, of course are the TRULY humiliating ones, like some job-seeker's or college applicant's sexting adventures showing up on MySpace or YouTube.
Then, of course, not all online embarrassment comes from drunken parties or ill-advised dating games. Some of us, who like to blog or be active in the social networks just have stuff online was relevant at the time, but several years later makes us appear hot-tempered, silly, or like really, really, bad spellers. Sometimes this stuff can be deleted, and sometimes it cannot. The problem is that even if we have access to the site this stuff is posted on, and can deleted it (or can convince the site owner to delete it), the search engines often store it in a "cache" for an indefinite period of time (unless, of course, you delete your stuff in error, and need the stuff in the cache, in which case the cache will be deleted within hours - Murphy's Law, don't ya know).
If this has happened to you, you can try getting it deleted using instructions like these, but you'll have to do it on every search engine individually, and good luck with that. You're better off to just start posting good, current material like crazy, and getting your online friends to link to it, to push your "good" stuff to the top of the search engine results pages, and hope no one does an in-depth search (to page two, three, or four) of those search results).
Better idea? Remember that what happens online stays online, and guard your digital reputation with care.
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking.