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Digital Footprint
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How to Clear Your Digital Footprint (Before Running for Office)

2 min read
Digital Footprint
Good Party Politics Team · Mar 4, 2024

It could be said that whatever happens on the internet stays on the internet. While that joking post from high school or college may have seemed fun and harmless in the moment, it will live on and come back to haunt you later in life, whether affecting your future employment or political ambitions.

In fact, there have been countless instances in recent years of politicians and political hopefuls having to backpedal or embark on a digital apology tour as a result of tone-deaf social media posts and other remnants of their digital footprint

What is a digital footprint, and how can a prospective independent candidate ensure that theirs is as clean as possible during their campaign?

Understanding Digital Footprints

In short, your digital footprint is the trail you leave every time you use the internet. It can be classified as a passive or active trail, and there are variable limits of control that you have over each kind.

A passive digital trail is the breadcrumbs left behind every time you open an online account or browse the internet. It includes tracking cookies used to track everything from website performance to those used by marketers to gain insight into user behavior for advertising purposes. You can tailor what information is gathered as you browse, but you can’t get rid of them completely.

Active digital footprints are mostly left by actions users intentionally take, such as posting or commenting on social media. These are more directly under our control, except in cases where a third party posts content with your image or words, old or new, without your consent. Consider a classmate or co-worker posting an old term paper you regret or tagging you in images from that office party where you partied a little too hard. 

That doesn’t even take into account the number of texts, emails, and other messages that are created and sent every day. Even those that you delete still exist on someone else’s device or end up in cloud storage somewhere in the ether. 


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The Impact of an Unfavorable Digital Trail

The trail we leave online can follow us into the realms of professional and political life, which makes cleaning it up an essential step before running for office. Not only does leaving embarrassing or controversial content online make you look bad to your future constituents, it gives opponents a trove of digital dirt that can tarnish your image. 

Without strategic reputation management, opponents can leverage past posts, comments, or associations and use them as ammunition in the battlefield of public opinion. 

The practice of investigating a political opponent, known as opposition research, can unearth potentially damaging information that might sway voters' perceptions and influence the outcome of an election. Even a seemingly benign post can be taken out of context and skewed to make the subject look bad. 

As such, proactively managing and sometimes erasing parts of your digital footprint is not just advisable; it's a strategic imperative. Here’s how it’s done:

5 Steps for Cleaning Up Your Digital Footprint

It’s estimated that the average internet user generates about 150,000 megabytes of data every day. When you consider the number of years the commercial internet has been in existence, and add to that the fact that the newest generation of voters and potential candidates is the first to grow up in an entirely digital world, that’s a lot of information flowing in and out of people’s purview.

Although there is no way to entirely erase your digital past, there are steps that you can take to clean things up before launching your campaign:

1. Conduct a comprehensive audit.

The first thing you should do is the simplest: Google yourself. You may be surprised what comes up that you’ve forgotten or didn’t realize was searchable. 

However, a lack of results on Google doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. It also doesn’t mean you should stop with Google. Type your name into other search engines and see what comes up. Don’t forget that platforms like LinkedIn, YouTube, Yelp, and other online platforms are also basically search engines.

The next step is to review all of your social media accounts, including those you may have forgotten about. Look through your posts, likes, comments, and shared content across all platforms. Delete any old or unused accounts. 

Don't forget less obvious profiles like old blogs or forums. In addition to platforms that are currently in widespread use, older platforms like MySpace and bulletin boards or forums are still available on the internet and may still have old posts or comments. Those that aren’t currently live can still be accessed through tools like the Wayback Machine

2. Delete or edit questionable content.

While closely scrutinizing your online existence, remove any problematic posts. Anything that could be deemed offensive, inappropriate, or contradictory to your current campaign should be deleted. Try to look at it objectively from an outsider's perspective, or consider how it could be used by an opponent to make you look bad to voters.

Once you’ve removed any potentially problematic content, change your privacy settings to control information that doesn’t need to be public. Remove the ability for others to tag or mention you online without your permission, and create separate personal and professional accounts. 

Head off any future problems by monitoring mentions with a tool like Google Alerts

3. Manage content you can't control.

If there's damaging content about you on websites that you don't control, you can reach out to the sites’ webmasters and request its removal. If a webmaster is uncooperative or can’t be reached, there are legal channels available to get erroneous or defamatory information taken down. 

In some jurisdictions, you can request search engines to delist certain information about you. The Right to be Forgotten is a legal protection that’s available in several countries, including the United states.

4. Optimize your online presence.

Digital reputation management doesn't mean getting off of the internet completely. It’s an essential tool for politicians in the Information Age. Instead, you should concentrate on highlighting content that reflects your values, achievements, and the positive aspects of your campaign.

You should also be mindful of new content moving forward. Think twice before posting, sharing, or commenting on other posts. Ensure that any new content aligns with your public image and campaign messages.

5. Monitor your digital footprint.

It’s not enough to use tools like Google Alerts to stay informed about what's being said about you online. Monitoring digital footprint is a continual process that should be repeated at regular intervals. What was hidden yesterday could come to light tomorrow, especially if your campaign gains traction and your brand becomes better known. 

It’s also important to be authentic and transparent. Rather than hiding from unfavorable mentions that you can’t control, address them immediately and publicly. This demonstrates that you’re also human while showing constituents how you handle adversity or negative campaigning

What to Look Out For 

When cleaning up your digital footprint, it's important to be thorough. Overlooking an old blog comment or a forgotten social media profile could leave you vulnerable to political attacks. Seeing your name in the news or trending on social media could trigger a response from an old schoolmate with a grudge or someone from your past who simply has an ideological difference.

Pay particular attention to content that:

  • Undermines your campaign's message or values

  • Is personally embarrassing or professionally compromising

  • Could be interpreted out of context to your detriment

Defining a "Good" or "Clean" Digital Footprint

A "good" digital footprint is one that positively reflects your character, values, and professional accomplishments. It should support your campaign message and present you as a trustworthy, competent candidate. 

However, a clean digital footprint isn’t necessarily devoid of personality or history, and it doesn’t mean that you’ve always been a perfect person with enlightened ideals. Rather, it's content that’s curated to ensure that what's visible serves to bolster your public image and campaign objectives.

Final Thoughts

In today's digital age, managing your online presence is as crucial to a political campaign as policy development and voter outreach. Cleaning up your digital footprint is not about erasing your past, but strategically managing your online presence to present the most authentic, positive image to the electorate. 

Remember, the internet never forgets. But, with careful planning and ongoing vigilance, you can control the narrative and protect your political future.

Good Party can help track your campaign’s effectiveness with access to tools like our AI Campaign Manager. This free suite of campaign tools can give your campaign the competitive edge it needs to stand out from your competitors.


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How to Run for Office
Campaign Messaging
Digital Footprint
By Good Party Politics Team
The politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.