Facebook rolled out Graph Search in the US last week and plans to expand it to other users in short order—it’s going to be easier than ever for people to find your posts.

Your online footprint is larger than you remember. Did you ever have an Orkut account? What about that old Myspace profile, or Flickr page? Everything you posted to them is still online today, unless you delete the posts or make them private. Today, it’s possible to get fired, end up in a broken relationship or in extreme cases, get booked for a comment you’ve put up on your Facebook wall.

Jyorden T. Misra, managing director of Delhi-based Spearhead InterSearch, a global executive search firm, says: “Social media profiles are checked as a part of the due-diligence process by many organizations today. There have been instances where candidates who were otherwise qualified were rejected because of lifestyle traits displayed online; references to drinking, drugs, bad-mouthing of their co-workers and employers."

Deepak Kulkarni, director, HR, Asia Pacific, Bristlecone (a Mahindra Group consultancy service), adds, “At Bristlecone we use social media to validate the information provided by the applicant, to help make a decision on the interview."

So how do you deal with this online “clutter"?

Filter access: Social networks like Facebook let you set different privacy levels. Want to keep your party photos for friends to see? Make sure they’re the only ones who have access to them. On Twitter, remember that everything you say is public. If you want to use Twitter to keep up with friends and share off-colour jokes and photos, then change the account settings to private.

Set a cut-off: Facebook’s Timeline includes the very handy feature of letting you control privacy by year—the year when you started working is usually a good point to draw the line between public and private space. We’ve all said and done stupid things in college—but even if that was 10 years ago, it’s not a good idea to air them for your boss too. Jump to the date, and set everything before that to private. After that, you can scan your timeline and mark some chosen items as public if you want. This isn’t just for Facebook either because recruiters often check LinkedIn and Twitter too.

Check those apps: Facebook and Twitter use something called API authorization through which you can grant access to your account to third-party applications. This is pretty cool for the time when you want a game to tweet your high score, or when you want to run the birthday calendar app on Facebook. But often, you’re giving those apps access to your personal information, and giving them permission to post on your behalf.

Check the apps that have access on these and other networks; you’ll find many apps which you activated years ago and haven’t used since. Remove their access rightaway. Do you need all the other apps that remain? If the answer isn’t a resounding YES for any app on the list, remove that one too.

Automate clean-up: Want to get out of Facebook, and don’t want to leave any traces behind? Download Facebook Scrubber. It’s free, and removes all the information you’ve ever uploaded to Facebook. After that, you can delete that account with confidence.

If you’re not ready for the nuclear option, then check out SimpleWash. This free app lets you pick and choose the content you want to delete, from photos and posts to likes.

SimpleWash also works with Twitter; the app scans all your updates, looking for offensive language and references to drugs and alcohol. Then you can choose to delete the content or leave it. And in case the automatic search doesn’t find something you remember, you can use the search bar to find things too. While you’re at it, you can also use Tweepi to delete the Twitter followers you don’t interact with—this reduces the odds that you’ll forget about someone following you and make an inappropriate post.

Go hands on: This is the last step but possibly the most important one. Once you’ve run SimpleWash, take a scan through your Facebook Timeline to make sure that there’s nothing objectionable left. With Twitter, scanning through all your tweets is difficult, but All My Tweets is a free tool that helps—it lists every tweet you’ve ever made on a single screen, so you don’t have to scroll through page after page to check if SimpleWash missed anything.

For older networks which you don’t use actively any more? It’s best to just delete or lock down the account.

Close