Controlling Your Online Image

When we were in the military we were often told not to do anything that we wouldn’t want the whole world to read about on the cover of the Washington Post. Or the Dallas Morning News, or whatever local paper was handy. Sound advice for a new recruit, struggling with his or her role in the framework of the larger military. But sound advice for everyone, not just military personnel.

But these days merely controlling one’s public behavior is not enough. The recruiter ought to also tell his recruits to be very careful about controlling their online persona, as well.

What’s this got to do with lawyering, you ask? Well, jurors, judges, opposing counsel, future employers, current employers, disgruntled romantic interests and everybody else all have one thing in common: access to the internet! And while it’s true that jurors and judges—in particular jurors— shouldn’t be indiscriminately Googling, blogging, tweeting, or texting about ongoing trials, the reality is that they do. A lot. Even if they are told not to. By the judge.

So we can ignore the reality—that folks are going to use the internet when they shouldn’t—and try to fix these problems on appeal, or we can face the problem and act proactively. If you’re like me, and prefer the proactive route, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Change your privacy settings for any social media. Often sites will have their own tutorials on this subject or you can find information posted by helpful users. Read the guides, check your settings, and update them frequently.
  2. Monitor your online presence. This is like fixing your credit score. You can’t make it better, if you don’t know it’s bad. So Google yourself. Put your name in quotes and out, run an images only search. What comes up? Anything bad? If so, can you change it? Maybe it’s an embarrassing picture posted by a “friend.” In that case, ask that it be removed, the label taken off, etc. These are not instant fixes, as the history will remain available indefinitely, but it’s a start.
  3. Remember that everyone is not your friend. It is okay not to be friends with everyone. For example, that guy you sat next to in math class a decade ago, you know, the one who likes to post embarrassing drunk pictures? Jurors on your DWI case will not be impressed that he’s your friend. It’s also okay to de-friend someone. On Facebook, at least, there is no notification if you de-friend someone. Go through and purge those folks that you only met once at a party three years ago.
  4. Be prepared to address negative or questionable content. You should know what’s out there, and particularly in a job interview, be prepared to respond to questions or concerns.

It’s unfair and sometimes illegal that the internet can be used against us so easily. But it doesn’t do your or your attorney any good to ignore the incredible source of information, good and bad, that jurors and everybody else will be using to learn about you.

Remember folks, at the end of the day there’s no substitute for having a lawyer of your own.

And as always, our blog postings are not legal advice, nor do they constitute an attorney-client relationship!

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