It’s Time for Your Social Media Cleanse

There's really only one way to control your digital profile

Wiping social media icons off a smartphone with a cloth
Illustration by Maritsa Patrinos.

 Lifewire / Maritsa Patrinos

Do we all need a social media cleansing every once in a while? I’m not talking about a social media break. Those are nice, too. I mean the idea of crawling through your social media corpus and scrubbing away unnecessary and maybe unflattering debris.

I started to think about this after I was asked to comment on the case of a young woman who applied for a job at a marketing agency and then found one of her personal Instagram images posted on the company’s Instagram story.

Now in the happy version of this story, the company would’ve posted something empowering about the 24-year-old. In reality, the tiny agency shamed her for wearing a bikini on social media, as if that was somehow the measure of her skills.

Things went as you would expect them to for the company. They got so much heat that they ended up pulling down all of their own social media. I’m pretty certain that the decision to post that woman’s bikini photo on their Instagram story and shame her was not a corporate decision—maybe it was one renegade employee—but that still doesn’t make it right.

It should be made clear, the young woman did nothing wrong, but I think there is a valuable lesson for all of us in this saga.

Be Yourself, But

People should feel free to live their lives on social media and be their authentic selves, but not every moment we post on social media is our truest or best selves. It’s just us in the moment.

Gen Z, in particular, has at least a decade’s worth of digital content all over the web. I can’t imagine all of it is flattering. Also, how we feel about something when we’re 15 might differ significantly from how we view the same topic when we’re 25 and are on the job hunt.

Cleaning up your social media is akin to finally emptying out that hall closet of shoes you stopped wearing a decade ago.

Even if you didn’t post something when you were young, you might have popped a tirade on Facebook or Instagram when you were wound-up and angry. Did you go back later and delete the post? I doubt it.

What people discover about you when they Google your name is not all of you. It’s a snapshot created by collating dozens of digital bits. The result is like a puzzle with about 50 percent of the pieces missing. They have a picture, but it’s by no means complete or even accurate.

Places to Look

  • Google
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Other people’s social media
  • Old forums

Take the Cleanse

This is what I’m talking about. Occasionally cleaning up your social media (read "deleting old posts") is akin to finally emptying out that hall closet of shoes you stopped wearing a decade ago or emptying the basement of those 250 Amazon boxes. It’s a once-a-year act that takes the temperature of your life on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn, message boards, and elsewhere and makes sure that your digital self is your best self.

Now this can work in reverse, as well. Say you’ve been super-controlled in what you post and say on social media, but you realize that, in total, there’s no you there. Your digital personality profile is as interesting as a slice of white bread. Instead of randomly posting “this is me!” Instagram selfies, I’d suggest a more programmatic approach. Decide on the persona you want to build going forward and then be as strategic as possible in future posts 

The more curated stuff you post, the more it pushes down (hides) any old, embarrassing posts.

Searching Yourself
Go ahead, search yourself on Google. It's fun and educational.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Search Yourself

Your Social Media Cleanse should probably start with Google (it's where everyone else will start when looking you up). Googling yourself is often seen as a deeply narcissistic act. I’d argue it’s like turning on a light in a giant dark factory to discover that there are rows and rows of unfamiliar boxes referring to you by name. In most cases, you have no idea what’s inside of them. Examining search links pointing to you and your stuff is another great way to digitally cleanse your profile.

Usually, you can clean up these bits of digital debris on your own. If you can’t, then you’ll be sending some emails to the companies hosting the information.

In this search, you might even discover people who are using your own images on their sites without your permission and you’ll realize you haven’t properly locked down your social media.

So What

As I noted above. The young woman in question did nothing wrong, but she might now realize that leaving her Instagram public as opposed to inviting only trusted friends and family was a mistake, especially when she’s interviewing with such a clearly misguided company.

Finally, you might want to take another look at your friends' and family’s social media accounts, as well. Yes, you’re in there, too. Get ready to politely ask them to take down that old photo of you doing a keg stand

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