I am a masters student at one of the top two universities in the UK and will be applying for PhD positions soon. When I google my (unique) name, the first few results are what you'd expect, my LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and some university web pages.
However if you keep scrolling and go through the pages of Google's search results, you see some silly forum posts from when I was 12-14 years old, and some poorly written Yahoo Answers questions from the same time. I am now 22 so this was almost 10 years ago.
I know it's stupid but when I was that age no one really taught me how to use the internet properly and so ended up using my full name in a number of places.
I've not written anything offensive and my name isn't on anything objectively bad, but it's just childish silliness (memes, poorly written stories, Yahoo Answers nonsense, and just weird forum posts) and I'm a bit embarrassed to be honest. I feel like as I continue to progress academically, it will become more likely that people will Google me and see all this which might make it likely that I will be judged. Again, it's nothing offensive or objectionable just old young teenager stuff. Benign but embarrassing.
Should I just ignore it and hope that as my career develops these old results get pushed further back in Google's search results? Should I try to remove this stuff from the internet (very difficult as I have lost all these old accounts)?
The stuff I posted back then has little to nothing to do with who I am now professionally, and I would hate for people to think it is. Having a unique name does seem like a curse sometimes and I have made it worse by being extra foolish when I was young.
I'm deeply involved in web technologies including search results. The simplest and fastest way to solve this problem is to add other search results. The more "legitimate" and positive results found the less likely the others will be seen. There are numerous factors in raising search results but still:
Create another StackExchange account with your name and use it. Create Twitter, Gab, Instagram, YouTube, Minds, Wordpress, Blogspot, Reddit accounts with your name. Join groups and use your real names (in addition to pseudonyms). Create a Disqus account with your name.
You don't need to make many posts on each site but place professionally enhancing content there.
If you really want to spend time with this - open other accounts with simple variations that include the key phrase - thus creating more false results.
A little work every day and soon you'll have 100s if not 1000s of positive results that will appear above the other silliness.
Relax. No one cares, and no one will judge you on what you said when you were 12. (At least, no one who was ever 12 years old themselves...)
European Union privacy rules include certain aspects of the right to be forgotten. I am not an expert on what this means precisely, but it seems to include the right to have search engines remove certain information associated with your name from search results.
Here is another page provided by Google with more information and a form for submitting privacy-based requests for removal of search results. I assume other search engines will have similar procedures in place to comply with the EU rules.
Note that these rules apply in the EU. I suspect the embarrassing results associated with your name will still be available in non-EU countries. See this related recent article where this somewhat controversial issue is discussed.
Well, be assured that you are not alone. Things kids do were hidden from view in the past, but no longer. Now your entire life is on view for anyone who looks.
In general, however, as long as what you did or said isn't truly horrible, it will do little more than raise eyebrows or elicit a laugh. People generally realize that we eventually grow up and those older than you, whose background is less visible will look back at their own foibles as well.
But if you bragged at age 15 that you liked to blow up frogs with firecrackers, you might want an explanation for why that isn't the same you anymore.
More generally, however, I think that society needs to take more account of personal privacy, especially for those not yet officially adult. No one seems to have good solutions for that, however, other than parental supervision. Certainly the social media sites have little interest in your privacy when their business model depends on exploiting information about you.
This question is definitely more of a online reputation management question so my only advice is buckle up and try to anonymize your past actions.
Here are some suggestions:
Ultimately, assuming you didn't post anything illegal or bigoted then it's not likely to come back and haunt you; unless you decide to become a politician then EVERYTHING will be used to smear you.
From what you described, I wouldn't worry too much about it. If you were earnestly engaging in public discussions before you had mastered articulate presentation skills, I personally would see that as a positive not a negative. But much more likely, I'm never going to search remote forum boards for a candidate I'm interviewing.
With that said, I think a very proactive measure one could take is to simply build a professional website. If I'm interested in judging the professional contributions of an individual, this is the very first and most likely the last place I will look for them; it gets straight to the point and typically communicates exactly what technical skills they do (or do not) have. If I'm interviewing you, I don't care if you're into sky-diving in your free time, I want to know what your research interests are and how well you communicate technical information. A website is a great place to demonstrate this.
As an anecdote, I also have a unique name (only one in the world) and for a long time if you Googled me, my website was the first result to pop up and some combat sporting events I participated in would pop up on the first page of the search results (it's now moved down much further). At the time, I similarly was slightly embarrassed, as I felt it was a bit unprofessional. Many of the people who have interviewed me were familiar with what was on my webpage. Not a single one was familiar with the sporting events.