dave-mittlemanYou’ve probably heard of people, or at least have seen characters in movies, change their names and identies to escape their pasts. But what if we all need to change our identities in the future to escape the damage we’ve done to our reputations via social networking sites? While that might sound a little extreme, Google CEO Eric Schmidt fears that we’ve already put too much personal information online and that we’ll be forced to do just that one day.

Social networking sites can be useful tools that enable people to reconnect with friends and family, providing a unique method to “keep in touch”. The problem is that social networking also provides us with the capability to eternally embarrass ourselves for the world to see. Once you put it online, it is shared around the world in seconds, and can still be recalled many years from now. Indeed, it is true that we’ve already learned some difficult lessons about what we should or shouldn’t share on social networking sites:

You’re hired: many employers require potential hires to share their social networking account information. Tech savvy employers want to be able to check what you’ve posted on Facebook or Twitter; what you post online says a lot about you. So be careful of what you post, it could cost you a job opportunity.

You’re fired: thinking of bad mouthing your boss on Facebook? Think again…it could mean your job. There is a long and growing list of people who’ve lost their jobs because they just couldn’t keep their complaints to themselves. Also, don’t post those pictures of yourself on the beach after calling in sick. Your employers are watching, and they probably won’t appreciate the “good time” you had.

What’s your (friend’s) credit score?: it might sound unfair, but lenders are starting to use technology that can extract information from your friends on social networking sites and use it to make assumptions about your financial credibility. Specifically, by using services like RapLeaf, banks can get information about your friends’ credit scores and make assumptions about what kind of credit risk you might be.

Till death do us part: of course you would want to be friends with your spouse on Facebook or Twitter…until the marriage ends. Think twice about remaining friends with your ex and be careful with what you say online. Divorce proceedings can be very nasty, and social networking sites can be treasure troves of information to use against you. For example, did your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s girlfriend just post on Facebook that she got a new piece of jewelry from him? The court might regard the gift as a marital asset being disbursed to a third party and then it won’t be hers anymore.

Remember, the Internet never forgets. While you might not need to change your identity to escape your digital past, always use discretion and common sense before posting anything online.