Since the search engine’s early days, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has been criticized for the seemingly arbitrary ways in which it calls up its top results. (Just last month, an Australian entertainment promoter successfully sued the website for defamation after Google search results ostensibly linked his name to the Mafia.) But as more and more personal information gets loaded onto social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it has become virtually impossible for anyone to remain anonymous.
And, sometimes, the more common your name, the more trouble you can get into, even if your own personal past is squeaky clean. For instance, if your name is Eddie Jones, a Google search might reveal image results of another Eddie Jones halfway around the world who happens to have a penchant for wild parties and blowup dolls. That’s a problem for a growing number of job applicants, according to Pete Kistler, cofounder of BrandYourself, a DIY online reputation scrubber. The website markets itself as an affordable alternative to expensive reputation services, which have been around for several years and can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Rather than chasing after offending websites and passing out threatening “Take Down” notices, BrandYourself helps push positive information -- a LinkedIn profile, for instance -- toward the top of Google’s search results.
And according to the Associated Press, BrandYourself and similar tools are being made available free of charge where they’re needed most -- on college campuses, where young near-grads who have spent their lives making digital footprints will soon need to be concerned about their online reputations.
“It’s becoming more and more important for students to be aware of and able to manage their online presence, to be able to have strong, positive things come up on the Internet when someone seeks them out,” Mike Cahill, career services director for Syracuse University, told the AP.
Syracuse, along with Rochester and Boston’s Johns Hopkins University, are among the schools that are offering tools to help students clean up search results associated with their names.
Kistler co-founded BrandYourself after he was unable to land an internship in college. After doing some research, he discovered that prospective employers were mistaking him for another Pete Kistler, who happened to be a convicted drug dealer.
And such stories are not so uncommon. According to an April survey on Career Builder, 34 percent of hiring managers admit to not calling a candidate back due to something they discovered online. Among the highest online offenses are inappropriate or provocative photos, evidence of drinking or drug use, poor grammar and even hate speech.
Not surprisingly, the explosion of social media over the last five years has increased the likelihood of a would-be boss stumbling upon unflattering information about a candidate. According to Career Builder, 37 percent of employers use social networking sites when researching job candidates. In the IT industry, that number is as high as 52 percent. Earlier this year, some employers landed in hot water for asking applicants to hand over their Facebook passwords during job interviews, but most HR professionals will not be so bold. They’ll simply troll Facebook and Twitter to uncover any and all information that is publicly available. And for most of us, that’s a lot -- the good and the bad of it.