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College 101: Being Seen — And Unseen — Online

I don't know how to feel about the way we're all so visible online. I like using social media, but it kind of scares me that having a bad social media post can ruin your career and make you some kind of societal outcast. I know that some of the things that have caused outrage recently are absolutely unacceptable, but it also scares me to imagine that the internet mob might ever go after me. What do experts think of our online lives? How do they suggest we regain our privacy?

These days, we live our lives on the internet. That has a lot of benefits, but it also has serious drawbacks. Ours is a world in which the internet always has online evidence from the past, and experts are still working out what to make of it. Some feel that the internet, by and large, just makes it easier to serve justice that ought to be meted out anyway. Others feel that you don't have to condone the reprehensible things that prominent people have said on social media to be troubled by the fact that political groups are taking down their enemies by tracking down dirt on the internet.

The internet's connection to our real-world lives can be helpful. Just look at GoLookUp, a site that makes it easy to look up public records and perform background checks. That’s a nice thing to have when you’d like more information about your anonymous online date

And our connected online lives also make our social world more convenient. We can connect with friends, invite people to parties, and follow our interests through social media platforms with ease.

Companies and professionals want to be noticed online by the right people. The competition to get noticed online is fierce, and savvy companies even invest in services designed to make them as visible as possible on major search engine websites such as Google. The practice is called "search engine optimization," or SEO, and it's something that businesses of all sizes are concerned with, say the experts at SEO Gorillas, one of the most prominent SEO companies in Toronto.

But the internet can be scary, too. What people post on social media could be a big problem for them later in life if they're not careful. In addition to obviously reprehensible things such as racially insensitive comments, users have countless other things to worry about. They might get caught in a photo drinking while underage. A photo with them and an acquaintance might prove politically embarrassing at some future date. Or a years-old post complaining about work could make a potential employer think twice.

Your online presence can’t be completely erased. (One tech executive went so far as to suggest that changing one's name was the only sure way to do it.) But we each can and should do some things to protect ourselves.

Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings on the social media sites you use. They can be complex, but it's important that you fully understand what is being shared, and with whom. Then, consider wiping out older posts. Apps can help you here, including some that can delete swaths of your history on Twitter.

You can also work to make your activities online anonymous. Using virtual private networks (VPNs) could help mask your traffic. Strong passwords can keep your accounts on various sites safe. Never use the same password for multiple websites. And remember to keep identifying information out of your online screen names and account names.

We don't have to live in fear, but always be conscious of your conduct online, and take steps that you feel comfortable with to minimize your public presence. It could help you in your personal life and your career.

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