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.

  • Comments posted in answers and the ensuing discussions have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Sep 25 at 6:59
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    In Europe we have the "right to be forgotten", If you make a request, google should remove the results containing your name. I'd also recommend checking other search engines to see how you show up there. google.com/webmasters/tools/… – Bas Sep 25 at 12:42
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    Hi Qazed1234, There are two ways to take 10 year old silly posts - one is how you fear they will be taken, the other is that you became active early in online forums and learned as you went. – pojo-guy Sep 25 at 20:28
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    Is it possible that you could plausibly deny that the person who posted those 'embarassing' statements is a different person? Is your name particularly unique or uncommon? – Pharap Sep 27 at 17:31
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    Is the question really "how will this affect me in the future?" That question asks random people who do not know you to make a prediction of the future based on almost no information; that's not a great question format for this site. Is there a way to make this question more crisp? – Eric Lippert Sep 28 at 0:00

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 Stack Exchange account with your name and use it.
  • Create social media 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 of your name thus creating even 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.

  • Extended discussions, comments on the Gab issue, and answer in comments have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Sep 24 at 19:38

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...)

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    You are right most won't care. There may be a few who do, but you probably don't want to work with them anyway. – mathreadler Sep 21 at 16:47
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    If someone cares about 10 year old posts online as part of their recruitment process, OP should consider himself lucky he won't be working with them. But lump the OP into the same bracket. OP is the one worrying about being judged according to those terms, so OP's value system equates to theirs. – Sentinel Sep 22 at 17:51
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    @Sentinel: That’s hardly a fair assumption. You can legitimately worry that other people will judge you by some standard, without in any way subscribing to that standard yourself. If someone worries about possible discrimination for being openly gay, that doesn’t make them a homophobe themself. – PLL Sep 22 at 21:15
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    @PaulUszak That is semantically analagous to saying that only the hateful wont love hate. I think you need to reexamine your philosophy. – Sentinel Sep 26 at 0:21
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    @Sentinel If there were laws against being gay then one could have concern about whether or not someone will judge them or arrest them. Being concerned about backlash does not mean one believes the people doing said backlash are correct. It merely means that some people might judge because experience has shown some people do. – The Great Duck Sep 30 at 5:14

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.

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    I added it only because you state that information may still be available outside EU. That is not the intent of the rule. Had you not made that comment I'd not have made mine. – Buffy Sep 21 at 15:13
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    @op may have a better chance at trying to recover the forum accounts in question and edit or delete the posts. I recently did a "Google cleanup" of my own, and recovered several decade-old forum accounts and deleted their contents. – Strikegently Sep 21 at 16:29
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    Does the EU rule require the complainer to be an EU citizen? The OP had better do this before Brexit. – Barmar Sep 21 at 22:42
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    @WGroleau "EU cannot force a company outside of Europe to delete things from their servers that are outside of Europe." That's exactly what GDPR allows the EU to do, when the company is serving clients in Europe. – user2768 Sep 24 at 8:35
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    “When the company is serving … in Europe.” I have no doubt that some companies have chosen to instead stop serving those clients. And no doubt that others are ignoring any fines, knowing that EU is not going to invade their country over it. Should EU be silly enough to attempt blocking websites, people will get around it anyway. – WGroleau Sep 26 at 11:16

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:

  • Change your username on those forums and remove profile details
    • Often times this will globally change your name across all your posts
  • Contact the forums and ask them to de-associate your account from your posts; Stack Exchange does this so I hope others can too
  • Delete/edit your old posts if you can
  • Deleting your account can sometimes anonymize your old posts but some sites could maintain your username without a link to a profile

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.

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    This is a good suggestion. Some questionable site added a user with my name without my asking, and I changed the username before trying to delete it. – Rui F Ribeiro Sep 23 at 20:40

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.

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    Where were you going with "society needs to take more account of personal privacy"? – Michael J. Sep 21 at 18:10
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    Yeah, I think this answer isn't really the place for suggesting that society needs to change. It's just a bit outside the scope of the question :P – V2Blast Sep 21 at 22:14
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    What’s the problem with blowing up frogs (a small brained creature) with firecrackers? Am I not supposed to use poison or my shoe to kill insects which carry diseases for example. Should I not eat meat because it involves killing animals? I could understand forming a wary opinion of a person that was skinning cats alive or otherwise maximizing the pain of another creature. The blowing up of frogs could simply be a learning “what if” experiment or the testosterone of young boys. And they get squashed quite often by car wheels and such unintentionally. – Shelby Moore III Sep 25 at 19:40
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    You are equating all killings of animals, but those examples are not all comparable. It seems quite reasonable to develop a more negative opinion of someone for blowing up frogs than for squashing an insect with their shoe, let alone for eating meat. In general the motivation of why we do things matters, and some childhood mischief could attract criticism even if it does not involve the killing of any animals. – Dan Romik Sep 26 at 5:09

While I do recommend the point, mentioned by other answers, of having more (non-embarrassing) internet entries with your name (that can be anything from blog entries to mailing list discussions), something that has not been mentioned is that the people looking for you on the internet won't know that the Yahoo answers poster is the PhD student.

Sure, you have a very unique name, but... are you sure no one else on the Earth bears that name? Do people looking for you believe that?

When searching someone's name on the internet it's not uncommon to find, in addition to the one you expect, someone else with that name -which clearly is a different one- living on the other side of the globe (and perhaps nobody else, just those two results). Then, there are those results that could relate to the looked up person or not, in which I guess all those embarrassing entries will fit, unless you included extra details there, like listing your school or the place you lived.

The people that really browsed a lot for entries by your name will conclude that maybe you said some silly things ten years ago.

My expectation is that, at most, you would get some questioning from other young colleagues for fun (are you the Mxyzptlk that said 2+2=5?), at which point it is up to you to acknowledge having made those posts... or not, after all, how would you remember if you made certain Yahoo answers post 10 years ago, even if it mentions a name like yours?

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    qazed1234 could possibly even help this along by creating fake accounts using his real name, but fake photos, nationality, interests etc. This will increase the plausibility of the existence of someone else with the same name. – Pete Sep 27 at 10:06

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.

This is the problem of unable to change from your perspective to other's. Pick a person you want to know right now and google their name, would you even scroll to the bottom of the page? No. Just a couple of first results is enough to overwhelm your mind. Even when they have read everything about you, they will feel closer to you, not to mock you.

By being able to put yourself into other's shoes, you can detach to your emotions and move on.

See more:

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    Whether someone will "scroll to the bottom of the page" surely depends on what they're looking for. A casual google search perhaps won't uncover negative material, but a background check by a potential employer might. – user2768 Sep 24 at 8:30
  • It's possible, but I think even the potential employer maybe too busy to check all the way down – Ooker Sep 24 at 12:43
  • @Ooker If they are too busy, it does not mean they will stop checking altogether. It probably means that they will rather start contacting others to check for them, as they already do to some extent by using consultancy and recruitment companies and such. How they will be working depends on their owners and don't expect to have any transparency into that. – mathreadler Sep 27 at 14:40
  • @mathreadler huh, I thought consultancy and recruitment companies are for non-academics? – Ooker Sep 27 at 16:03
  • @Ooker I have seen several post doc positions announced through such companies. Would not surprise me if the extent was to increase also in the future. – mathreadler Sep 27 at 16:41

Relax.

What you did in your 12 is half your time here back. It will become a third soon, quarter slightly later, etc.

During this time you will feed the Internet with new and more relevant content and low-quality posts will become very obsolete and cannot backfire to you. If anyone tries to play that card in an argument, you can belittle it by "And you were a genius in your 12? You made a very poor improvement since then."

The only case your 12-year-old self can backfire at you is a very serious misbehaviour and it still can be dismissed as "I've learnt my lesson from that".

This is the part of growing up and learning. If you don't learn you don't improve. What actually happens to you is judging your old posts written with 12 year old knowledge and 12-year-old skills by criteria adjusted to recent knowledge and 24-year-old skills. Be sure that after 10 years you will see your today's work, you are proud of, with the same emotions as you are seeing the ancient posts Google has found.

If you are about to be assessed by a sane person they will know that and ignore that. If they will assess you because of your 20 years old posts, it is a strong argument for you to never meet them again.

  • But googling by potential future employers is a thing. – Peter Mortensen Sep 30 at 18:02
  • @PeterMortensen As other mentioned already, if one lives on the internets and grow up the ancient post OP is concerned about shall be burried in the heap of recent posts etc. And again, eployer concerned about your posts 20 years ago is the employer you do not want to work for. – Crowley Oct 1 at 8:07

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