April 20, 2024

5 Ways to Own Your Narrative When the Internet Owns You

The opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We must be mindful of what we post online, as 60% of companies admit that they use social media as a method of researching potential job candidates, according to CareerBuilder. They also found that one in four companies reprimanded an existing employee for something they posted online, and even senior management and the board of directors are not immune.

And it’s not just public data: wherever we access the Internet, we leave a trail of cookies and data. Our email addresses and passwords can appear in major data breaches, as happened last year with companies like Okta, MOVEit, and LastPass.

Companies (and, well, the Internet) increasingly collect our data, and depending on where you live, the law doesn’t do much to protect your privacy. This data, in turn, is used to train AI models and other technologies, and there is not much transparency in how it is leveraged and sold.

Related: Is your digital footprint killing your sales?

Web3 offers a number of digital identity solutions, but there is skepticism about how they work. While 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?

Today we have more ways to connect than ever – there’s a social platform for every interest, big or small, and it’s important to decide if you want to present yourself as yourself when signing up and posting.

Today, social media focuses on influencers and public figures rather than real people, and it is not uncommon for prominent people to use anonymous accounts with fictitious names like Beff Jezos and cartoon characters for profile photos. This is especially prevalent in the crypto space and in creative fields, such as artists and musicians.

In contrast, many influencers and public figures, especially journalists, use their real names (although they often use anonymous accounts). As long as you stick to that decision, there is no right or wrong answer.

Consider Dream, the Minecraft streamer who garnered over three billion views on his Minecraft streams while hiding his identity. His career has not been the same since his face reveal in 2022, as he began to receive a lot of hate online. He has since removed his unmasking video from YouTube, something Jezos, the leader of the effective accelerationism (e/acc) movement, criticized by the media like Guillaume Verdon, cannot do.

The difference between these men was their digital footprint, as it was easier to trace Verdon’s online activity back to him.

Related: Are Anonymous Online Detractors Shattering Your Confidence?

Controlling your fingerprint

JP Morgan recently published a paper on digital identity called “Assessing the Building Blocks of Web3.” In it, they describe four factors that contribute to our digital identification.

  1. Identifiers: Our names, email, addresses and social identifiers.
  2. Identity attributes: Data points about us, such as education or employment.
  3. Reputation: Our online personality, contributions, affiliations and followers.
  4. Collectibles and digital assets: Everything we own.

Web3 solutions like fediverse and wallets with soul-linked tokens aim to combine them, removing them from centralized servers and returning control of this data to our hands. Nowadays, it’s difficult to migrate between platforms since we don’t actually own our followers on Instagram or X, and the next generation of the Internet aims to fix that.

However, with this power comes responsibilities, such as protecting our passwords from cyber threats. Redundancy is important for risk management and you never want to have a single point of failure. If your blockchain wallet was hacked, you could lose everything forever and no one could help you get it back.

And regardless of whether these solutions ever become commonplace, there are steps we can take to better protect our digital identity.

1. Use single sign-on

With features like single sign-on, it’s easier than ever to sign in to apps and services using your account from companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook. This limits potential damage during a data breach, as the tokenized login will not compromise your other accounts.

Using SSO eliminates duplicate credentials, adding a layer of security, and there is no need to use a password manager like LastPass, which lost customer trust after being compromised last year.

2. Limit access to applications

Mobile devices are getting better at warning us which apps have access to which 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 is not in use.

3. Keep it professional

Keep in mind that everything you post on the internet is forever, and this is true whether in public or in direct messages. It’s not uncommon to see people leak private messages to each other on main during an argument, and reputations are often ruined this way. Celebrities like Drake and Justin Bieber have had their DMs leaked, and it’s best to assume yours may be too.

Maintain professionalism when communicating online. This way, you won’t have to worry about being compromised by a leak and ending up cancelled.

Related: Ten tips to behave like an adult professional

4. Periodically audit your presence

You can’t fix what you don’t know, so it’s important to know what appears under your name online. Get in the habit of searching your name online to see the results regularly. This will help you understand how others see you and allow you to make necessary changes.

Related: Your Brand’s Digital Presence Is More Than SEO

5. Involve your community

Nearly half of consumers (49%) trust online reviews as much as their friends and family recommend them. This means you can make a greater impact by having others praise you rather than doing it yourself. Find ways to solicit organic, positive customer feedback 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 is important to leave a good impression when using it because it may be the last time you use it. Be mindful of the data you leave everywhere – your next job or client may depend on it.

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