Offline vs. Online Self: Who’s the Real You?

Posting to social media has become so normal, that some people simply can’t imagine a life without Facebook, Instagram or other social platforms—to automatically share and engage with the latest content. However, all that information shared online, creates a specific and historical image about a user’s identity, which can actually differ immensely online and offline.


If you’re someone that tends to share often, leaving behind you a breadcrumb trail of images, likes and dislikes, perhaps it’s time to take a step back, and reflect on the picture you send onto the Internet about you and your life. OK, maybe your friends in real life will definitely know you, but for anyone who has found you online, what do they think?


Very simply, the bigger the difference between your real life and the life that is posted about in your images online, the easier it is for others to have a confused opinion about you. Your digital footprint can really affect your real life, so it’s important to know how to manage it.

What’s a digital footprint?

A digital footprint is the information about a person, created by their online activity. It’s often described as the equivalent of someone leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, in this case, digital breadcrumbs. Whenever a person sends an email, searches the web, posts to social media, or even likes or dislikes content, their digital footprint increases. That can happen because many websites, with the help of trackers, remember personal information and associate it with a user’s name or credentials.


There are two types of digital footprint —active and passive.

  • Active digital footprint is the data you intentionally submit online, such as emails, social media posts, comments, blog posts, product feedback and reviews, as well as likes and dislikes.
  • Passive digital footprint is the data that you don’t submit directly, but the websites still keep it. This may be your IP address or your internet provider. You may not consider this as personal data, however it does contribute to your digital footprint.

Why it’s important to manage your digital footprint

More than 48 percent of employers regularly search for their employees on social media. In some cases, those employers have found improper content on social media that has either prevented the employer from hiring, or has even led to employees being fired.


It’s pretty simple, even if your social media profiles are set to ‘private’ and only limited to your friends or followers, the reality is that your photos and posts may still be available for others to see, somewhere. Often they can pop up when someone does a quick Google search.


Before you’ve even been selected to be contacted by a recruiter, they’ll have done their online research in order to evaluate the information they find about you online. That’s one of the many reasons that it’s important to be careful and aware of your digital footprint.

Why you should care about your social media 

Social media is the most common source of digital breadcrumbs left after your online activities. Furthermore, it contains a lot of personal information that you may not want to disclose to strangers. Remember that in most cases things you post online cannot be un-posted—they stay on the Internet for a very long time.


If you have an account on Facebook, you’ve probably heard about the massive data leak that happened in early 2018, where the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica collected personal information from about 87 million Facebook profiles, without the user’s consent. The firm then used that data for political advertising.


Another Facebook data leak happened recently, and exposed the phone numbers of over 419 million users. That’s good news for hackers, but not for the account owners. These Facebook accidents truly demonstrate the importance of being careful when you share any data online. Just remember that the information you share isn’t always safe and private.

Try the ‘Google yourself’ experiment

The easiest way to define your digital footprint, is to perform a Google search, about you!


You’ll quickly know if any of your personal data has leaked online without your consent, as you’ll see what appears in the search results.


Whatever you find, is exactly what your online-self really looks like to others. It’s what your future employer or the recent acquaintance will see about you from your social media footprint.

Find out how to Google yourself properly

It’s not as obvious as it seems. In order to perform a thorough Google search, you can follow this set of recommendations to get the most accurate results.


Log out of your social media accounts and your Google account


Your Google account keeps your search and log in history and can affect what you find online. When you log out, Google will show you the ‘raw’ search results, not influenced by your online history. 


Use Incognito mode


Search engines don’t track or save the data sent via the Incognito mode. This mode will also help you retrieve unaffected search results. Whatever information you find in this way, will be the closest to what others can find by Googling you.


Enter your name and its possible variations


Try and enter different combinations of your name. That should include your first name, followed by your last name and vice versa, then your full name, as well as any possible misspellings. You can also try to search your nickname. 


Check out pictures, videos, blog posts 


Don’t forget to check out the images and videos sections in Google search results. You might just find a bunch of photos and videos you were tagged on without you knowing it. It’s also advisable to look through at least 5 pages of the search results. 


Look for other information that can identify you 


Try to search for your email address, physical address, phone number, even your name, together with the city you live in. That might bring up information about you, or just someone else with the same name.

Different ways to manage your digital footprint 

Here are some key things to remember and try in order to keep your private information private.

Always check out privacy settings on social media


Every social media website should have a dedicated section explaining its privacy policy. Read it attentively and feel free to change the privacy settings if needed. 


Check the app’s permissions 


When you install an app on your phone, it shows you what data it wants to access. If you don’t feel okay allowing the app access to your contacts list, manage the app’s settings so that you can safely use it.


Remove the accounts you don’t use anymore


In most cases, you can not only deactivate your account, but also remove your personal data along with the profile. There’s no point in keeping an account you don’t want to use anymore. 


Log out of your accounts 


This is more important if you use a public computer. Don’t forget to log out of your account on social media when you are done. Still, it’s actually better not to use public computers to post your personal data. 


Skip the ‘About you’ sections


Social media websites have a lot of fields to fill in—from the school you attended to your relationship. You don’t always have to complete all of those fields just because they are there. Only share the information you are comfortable with.


Untag yourself from the content you don’t like


If you do find some embarrassing photos you are tagged in, most of websites give you a possibility to untag yourself. The content may stay on the Internet, but it will no longer be linked to your name for others to see.


Hopefully this information helps you to understand the importance of being careful online. As you can’t underestimate the impression that your online profile might give someone. Can you?

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