You Are What You Google:
How to Delete Online Content

Maybe back in the day you were on a permanent "good one." Maybe you were that guy who reverently referred to his four-foot bong as Baron Puffy Von Bonghausen.

And just maybe you reveled in the fact that you were the only guy who could boot and rally twice in one night and remain the last one standing.

But things are different now. You’re a respected professional. People don’t call you The Beast anymore. They call you Paul. And that’s the way you like it. The problem is—your past has caught up to you.

Between Facebook and Google Images alone, there are 23 pictures of The Beast in various states of intoxication and undress. Not to mention the video of you inexplicably shaving off your eyebrows that made it online.

There are a number of ways to remove incriminating evidence that has leaked to the Net. Although, things can get a little dicey when someone else shares your pictures and videos on the Web (fixing that problem will require some major strategery on your part).

But take heart if you’re the one who uploaded the files during a momentary lapse in judgment (need Webroot’s Social Media Sobriety test?); there are a few ways to remove the cringe-worthy content.

How to delete your embarrassing—

Comments

Most social sharing, networking and news sites like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit offer easy-to-find options to get rid of posts within the tools themselves. In some cases, it’s as simple as hovering your cursor over the offending comment and clicking "remove."

Keep in mind that after you delete your message it may take months before it has been completely swept out of the server, so it could still pop up in search results. And, not all sites give you the choice to delete content.

For example, Digg states "Diggs, submissions and comments are all important contributions to the Digg community." So when communicating in that particular forum, you should think twice before A) using your real name as a username, and B) getting into it with y_soserious96 and threatening to "go monkey on his face." All of your activity is permanent and will be crawled by search engines.

Images

Images are similar to comments in that while you have the authority to remove them, they may still remain in the server for a much longer period than you would like. Facebook at least allows you to untag images of yourself that have been uploaded by somebody else, but doing so doesn’t delete them.

Untagging photos only means that they are removed from your profile, and people can’t use your name to search for them. Unfortunately, the images are still visible online and searchable based on whomever else has been tagged in the picture.

Google Images won’t let you untag photos that have been shared by someone else; however, there is a work around. Start uploading favorable images of yourself to Google and tagging them with your name. Take it one step further by adding those same pics to Picasa, Flickr, and LinkedIn, making sure to tag those as well.

The point is to upload newer, flattering versions of you to a number of different sites. Search engines will deem those photos more relevant and index them quicker. Translation: Your respectable pictures will eventually make it to the first page of the image results, thereby pushing out the older, embarrassing ones.

Videos

Luckily, videos are more straightforward. After you’ve deleted your video from a site like YouTube or Vimeo, it’s gone. While the link or thumbnail may hang around in the search results or your profile for a little while, neither will link to the video.

But let’s be honest here. Once your content—comments, images, videos, etc.—is up on the Internet for any period of time, it can be copied against your wishes. Anyone can grab your files and republish them online, at anytime—and you don’t have much recourse.

While it’s impossible to jump in your Delorean and go back in time to do it differently, please find comfort in two truths. First, you have the ability to mitigate some of the reputation damage simply by acting quickly and tactically. Second, every 6.2 seconds someone uploads a video of a cat who plays jazz piano or a baby who laughs like Rodney Dangerfield—it’s only matter of time before your ridiculous stunt gets lost in the shuffle.

By Laura Lee Arnet