Beware your digital signature

Businesses and politicians alike would love to control the messages about them. With the internet it is far harder to have this control but just trying to avoid this medium won’t solve the problem as if you are not writing about yourself then someone else will. Without your content about you, when someone Googles your name the only the things they will find will put there by others and their view of you or what you have done will be the only content available. Every piece of content that you or others put on the internet about you forms part of a ‘digital signature’, easily retrievable and reproduced.

As a relatively new politician, I was first elected in 2006, I am getting used to the fact that what I say and how I vote is now recorded and could be used against me (or for me). Today when I googled myself I found an excellently produced website (just because they do not agree with how I voted doesn’t mean I can’t give credit where it is due when I find a well designed site). The site displays the councillors that voted against a motion they favoured. What I say and how I voted is recorded on the Lambeth website and I even reproduce and make available my speeches on my own website. How political groups vote is debated extensively prior to the public vote which is recorded, policy and speeches homed and practiced.

But what about those starting out with their interest in politics, what digital signature are they leaving in the early days of their passion for politics as they develop their views. Could some of what they do or say now, recorded on the web, come back one day to haunt them and even ruin their political career in years to come?

In the eighties and nineties when I joined marches against racism, apartheid, poll tax and pretty much anything that Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives could throw at us, I did not give a second thought that what I said or my actions could affect me twenty years later. Now, in an age when everything you do or say can be captured by the multitude of devices hidden away in the pockets of all around you, there is not the same luxury of developing your political direction in public without the possibility of it coming back to bite you. For those on that early journey I would think twice on what you put on-line or at least be ready to defend it for the rest of your life, even after some of your views may have changed.

So there are two elements to your digital signature, those you personally add to the internet either through your own website or by contributing to a social network / photo or video sharing site; I call these the controllable digital signature. Whilst you have some control over this content, you can add and remove, you should always remember that just because you remove it this does not mean that someone else has not downloaded and kept a copy or captured the screen.

The second type of digital signature is content added by others; this could be a quote or article added where you have spoken to a journalist, an article or comment added with someone else’s opinion of you; photos, videos or audio that can be added either by your friends and more worryingly those who may not have your best interest at hand.

The digital era does not change the fact that if you can be exposed doing something or having an opinion that you may not wish to be seen by all – what it does is make it easier for people to access it; view or hear it firsthand, and for a wider audience to capture and share those moments in time you may wish stayed where they started.

Many politicians have become increasingly nervous about this and have reverted to the controlling tendencies I mentioned earlier. Well you won’t be able to control all elements – just make the most of the content that you do. And if you are going to do something that you may regret later, then remember that it’s not just word of mouth you need to be worried about – you may end up on YouTube performing your party trick for your constituents to see.

For everyone your Google search is effectively your on-line CV. Employers will Google you and spend more time on maintaining what information there is about you on-line. Read more about this on Jerimiahs blog. Here his example on where an individual has little presence on-line has his Google search dominated by negative content that he has no control of. You must not wait until the problem arises as the damage is already done.

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