Nowadays we’re all pretty clued in to the importance of keeping our online social lives private when it comes to our career and what potential employers can find out about our (sometimes drunken) antics, but what about when you’re looking to impress the future love of your life? Could Google quash your romance before the first date?
In our parents’ day, few people dated outside their community circles. Men and women met at social functions or were introduced through ‘friends of friends.’ Before the internet it was impossible for two people from different counties, let alone different countries, to consider starting a relationship without first meeting.
Now we live in the digital age. Online dating is fast catching up on all other initial love interactions with 1 in 5 relationships starting online. While the web has brought us new channels to meet people we would otherwise never have known existed, it has also brought us the channels through which we can learn about them second hand before deciding whether or not to date them.
As a single woman working in Public Relations the issues are pretty obvious to me. Helping organisations to manage their reputations is my job. The Publicist side of PR (managing publicity and public persona of an individual) used to be the reserve of the rich and famous. But with our digital footprint outweighing our word-of-mouth reputations, it’s time we all took control of what the World Wide Web tells future beaus about us.
Call it what you like, we’ve all done it.
Armed with only a full name and location it’s pretty easy to find out a multitude of facts about a potential boyfriend. Social media channels are the easiest fodder of course, providing work history, relationship status and a wealth of photos. But even those who shy away from having a social presence online can still be caught by the search history net.
As an online dating site user I can’t count how many times I have looked someone up only to find that they are not, in fact, single at all. I once met a nice guy I hadn’t seen since childhood. He told me he had been a single father for years. At that point I was a single mother. I thought it was beautiful fate! A search through conversations on a mutual friend’s Bebo page (as it was then) proved that he was actually engaged to be married, with a second baby on the way.
Saving you from Disaster
I later dated a guy who presented himself as a successful businessman. He picked me up in a luxurious car, wined and dined me, showed me his beautiful home. His idea of a surprise date was concert tickets… in another country. A quick Google search killed the fairy tale when a local news website reported that he had been prosecuted for tax evasion and filed for bankruptcy.
A good friend of mine highlighted the importance of researching potential partners in a more serious way when she mailed me to explain how she researched the internet footprint of a man she had enjoyed a first date with, only to find that he would soon be in court on trial for a sexual assault.
Managing your Online Reputation
Gone are the days when your first date outfit was the most important piece of dating prep in your artillery. Now, you need to make sure you’ve got your online reputation under the thumb before you’ve any chance of getting a member of the opposite sex under said thumb.
I can’t blame it all on the boys. I have also felt the wrath of the Google search bots in the quest for a relationship. As a carefree student I dabbled in a bit of modelling. You might think “great, a library of Photoshopped pictures to rival any selfie!” However some of my modelling stretched to glamour style. As proud as I am of this part of my young, confidence-building journey, it was important to eradicate what I could of this foray in my online footprint, mostly from the eyes of future employers.
This became a huge issue when Escort companies began using my stolen images on their websites. Talk about sending out the wrong message! I managed to counteract this, for the most part, by using a little known piece of legislation called the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” Issuing an email notice citing a copyright infringement worked for the most part. What remains has been resigned to what industry people call ‘the Google Graveyard’ – anything after page 5 of the search results when people lose the will to keep searching.
If you’re dating, like me, then it’s time to take control of who the internet is telling people you are. Make sure you feel it reflects who you really are. I advise carrying out a regular audit of your online profiles and search results for your name, spotting any rogue content that you (or someone else) have posted publicly.
- Set up Google Alerts to flag up any new content containing your name
- Be careful what you say on social networks! Avoid controversial topics
- Understand your privacy settings – check them on a regular basis
- Be careful with Apps which claim to offer texts and images which disappear, live by the rule “once you post it, you’ve lost control of it”
Once we’ve got all that nailed down we can go back to concentrating on the fun side of dating; getting to know someone, the butterflies of the first date, and worrying more about which dress to wear and less about what Google has told your new friend about your past before you’ve even met!