Will your digital past come back to haunt you?

At the US Presidential debate last Sunday ‘regular guy’ Ken Bone became an overnight sensation. With his natty red cable knit sweater and earnest demeanour he quickly became the darling of the internet. His rise to fame was meteoric but his spectacular fall into infamy was even swifter when it was revealed that he had a somewhat unsavoury online past which rapidly came back to bite him on the backside.

It transpires that cuddly Kenneth had made some rather questionable comments on Reddit Ask Me Anything over the past few years which were unearthed by the cyber sleuths over at Gizmodo. Mr Bones dubious quotes involve some embarrassing porn references (made all the more uncomfortable given his surname), his cringe inducing experiences of having a vasectomy, his controversial opinion that the Trayvon Martin shooting was “justified” and admitting that he had broken the law by forging car insurance documents.

Arguably Mr. Bone also didn’t exactly endear himself to the (previously supportive) public by signing up to promote Uber Select (reportedly for a series of free rides – there is something oddly poetic about that given the aforementioned insurance scam) plus swiftly promoting a line of Bone branded T-shirts. You have to admire his entrepreneurial spirit but unfortunately the public rounded on him for selling out.

And with Halloween upon us, all this spine tingling conjecture (coupled with news images of deranged individuals dressing up as demonic clowns) got me thinking about how our own digital imprints can become a sinister (and indelible) record of what we say and do for all the world to see, including the organisations we work for and also for any prospective employers.
Over the years, I suspect many of us may have curtailed some of our early online behaviours for a more balanced approach. Just think about it though… what horrors from the past are potentially still lurking out there in the ether from the things you have previously said or done across various social platforms? As the modern day parable of Ken Bone demonstrates, our online activity has the power to make us or, indeed, break us. As Forbes writer Dani di Placido so eloquently puts it:

“Who on earth would be happy to give up their browser history to the public? Ken has been swallowed, digested and is now is the process of being painfully excreted”

So is there possibly a dodgy Instagram photo of you from that lost weekend away in Vegas on your friends hen party? What about that vitriolic comment you made on a LinkedIn post about the Kardashians? Then there was that acerbic tweet you wrote about why you think that Taylor Swift should possibly quit dating (at least until her next album is due). Still got a humiliating MySpace account replete with lime neon background and clip art images which you had forgotten about long ago but that still exists in cyberspace? And what about that lurid New Year’s Eve video of you on Facebook Live doing tequila body shots with your next door neighbour?

Question. Would you want your CEO to see any of that stuff? Or, possibly even worse, your potential new boss ?

Has that got you thinking? Well it definitely got me evaluating my social presence and so I decided to trawl through my digital back catalogue to determine if I had inadvertently posted anything that could be deemed detrimental. I sifted forensically through all of my social feeds to see if I could detect anything that could be misconstrued as unsuitable. In fairness there were a few dodgy photos that I wouldn’t want people (other than friends or family) to see. Although me sporting a pair of Speedo’s is frankly an image no one should have to endure, particularly a prospective employer. There were also a few comments I had made, which on reflection, could be misinterpreted if they were read without context. Simple solution? Edit them or, better yet, delete them. You will at least be pleased to hear that the Speedo’s snap has been expunged forever.

So have you got any digital skeletons in your closet? Have you ever posted something online that you have regretted many years later? And are you now going to check just to be sure?

Steve Blakeman
About the author: 

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director – Global Accounts at OMD Worldwide, and is based in London and Paris.  Previously Steve lead the Asia region for OMD and prior to that he was the Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). Mr. Blakeman was recognized by Media Week in their first-ever ’30 Under 30’ people to watch in the industry, and he is a regular judge at award events such as the Cannes Media Lions, AME’s, EFFIE’s, Festival of Media, Cristal Global and Spikes. Follow Steve on Twitter and LinkedIn.