Maintaining Mystery In Cyberspace

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Maintaining Mystery In Cyberspace

Words by Mr Stuart Heritage

22 October 2014


Go private

It’s bizarre that more people don’t have protected Twitter accounts. As of 2012, only 11.84% active Twitter users had hidden their messages from strangers. That means that there are roughly 239 million people around the world who currently publish their every ambient thought about their dinner (that kebab was the shizzle) or their sex life (Viagra + Molly = the Atomic Missile) to any fool who wants to read them. And, by all accounts, it seems as if protected users have more fun. Perhaps because they know they’re free from being judged by strangers, they tweet on average three times more than those with unprotected accounts. Which is all well and good, of course, until your new boss sends you a friend request and you have to spend the next 18 hours deleting tweets about what a boozy old has-been they are.


Get a disguise

Another way to ensure that nobody can ever track you down online is to never use your real name. Doing this will not only make you seem incredibly cool and mysterious but braver, too. With their real identities hidden from view, pseudonymous users have been free to discuss personal issues and whistleblow on corrupt corporate behaviour and even, in the case of the Facebook page We Are All Khaled Said, start entire political uprisings. At the other end of the scale, though, Facebook is making vague attempts to crack down on pseudonyms on the basis that they encourage trolling and other abusive behaviour. So tread carefully – one day you might wake up to find your Facebook page entitled Captain Enigma’s Shoplifting Experiments has disappeared entirely.


Boost your profile

Look, you already do this. To be on social media at all is to cherrypick the highlights of your life, buff them until you barely recognise them and share them with everyone else. This is why nobody ever Instagrams photos of themselves eating instant noodles in their underwear. Last year a survey revealed that a quarter of female Facebook users regularly lie or enhance facts about their lives online to make them seem less boring. Consultant psychologist Mr Michael Sinclair has warned about the negative consequences of this phenomenon, saying that “Omitting the less desirable imperfections of our lives from the conversations with our ‘friends’ online [results] in a greater sense of disconnection from others.” But, hey, you want people to think you’re cool, right? Why not go the whole hog? Write blog posts about your deep and abiding passion for the PR company you want to work for. Instagram piles of artfully vintage books that you’re never going to read. Tweet things like, “Just logged another shift at the orphanage. Those poor guys are such an inspiration #Hero”. This approach is guaranteed to really impress everyone, right up until the moment that they actually meet you.


Ask Google to delete you

When people snoop on you online, their first method of attack will probably be Google. And that’s probably fine if all you have to worry about is a Facebook page, a LinkedIn account and a Justgiving page that highlights your affinity for poorly donkeys. But if you’ve ever been subject to online slander or a hurtful review, or you have a criminal record that you feel has stigmatised you, a European court has now ruled that you have the right to be forgotten. Search engines in the European Union now have a legal duty to remove links to any content that qualifies as “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” if you ask them to. It’s a hugely complicated issue, and it seems to go against the basic free-speech tenets of the internet. But as a last resort to preserving your mystique, go for it.


Hire an online reputation manager

If any of the previous options sound like too much legwork and also you happen to be an idle billionaire with stacks of money to throw away on all manner of spurious-sounding services, there’s always the online reputation manager. These are companies – such as – that make money by charging you thousands to create and promote positive content about you and to bury all the horrible truths that currently clog up the first page of Google. These people use phrases such as “strategic dissemination” and “maximise impact”, so you know they mean business. Negative reviews of these services do admittedly exist, but they’re quite hard to find. These people are good!



Here’s an idea – if you really want to maintain a veneer of mystique in an online age, stop using social media. Imagine a world where potential dates aren’t pre-emptively confronted with photos of you on the beach in Speedos during your husky period. Or where the parents of your child’s classmates don’t get to read that weird meditation Tumblr you started once. Ditch social media and your attention span will increase, you’ll feel less stressed and your self-esteem and real-world relationships will flourish. But, then again, what are you going to do with all those pictures of sunsets, cats and good hair days if you can’t Instagram them? Print them off and look at them sometimes? Hardly.


Accept that this is just how things are

In the end, though, despite your insane contortions to stop the internet from seeing the warts-and-all profile of yourself that you’ve unwittingly created over the past decade or so, you’re simply King Canute trying to will back the tide. All that stuff about you – the nasty and old and embarrassing stuff – is already online. If people really want to find it, they will. At least you can take solace in the fact that everyone else is in precisely the same boat. We’re all at the mercy of snoopers, but remember, we’re all flawed. And no matter what anyone else says, our flaws are what make us human. Unemployable and destined to be alone forever, but human. That’s the important thing here.

Eight per cent of companies have fired an employee over their social media conduct.

Twenty-five per cent of Facebook users have no privacy settings in place whatsoever.

Forty-eight per cent of employers have binned CVs after seeing a candidate post alcohol or drug-related content on social media.

Forty-nine per cent of women would cancel a date after finding out something about him online.

Fifty-three per cent of employers use Twitter to screen candidates, compared to 48% who use LinkedIn.

Sixty-five per cent of employers admit wanting to monitor the social conduct of candidates.

Three hundred million Google searches per month are employment related.

Illustrations by Mr Patrick Leger