While the benefits are great, there are significant risks involved with being a social media user. A simple tweet can seriously damage a once perfect reputation. This concept is nothing new, as these stories quickly become cautionary tales of what not to do on social media for both brands and individuals. The information that exists around how to manage these situations instructs social media users to be proactive and put their best foot forward to avoid public blunders.

But what happens when it’s a post from the past that’s damaging your reputation?

The Evolution of Publicity

We’ve reached a point in time where many prominent individuals have been using social media for over a decade. Facebook became available for college students in 2004, and Twitter was launched in 2006. In an increasing number of cases, these individuals began using social platforms before they became public figures. A lot can happen over the course of several years, and personas evolve – evolving in maturity, values, and opinions. While this change is normal and expected, a growing trend for critics has been to use the words of public figures’ pasts against them, digging up years-old social media posts that may project them in a negative light or be contradictory to their current image.

Politicians are especially susceptible to this kind of criticism, as their stances on particular issues are often the foundation of their campaigns. Donald Trump is probably the most recent example of this. Trump joined Twitter in 2009, and wasn’t afraid to give his opinion on the political issues of the time. Now President of the United States, his critics are finding older tweets that contradict his current statements. A Google search for “Donald Trump contradictory tweets” will bring up dozens of results comparing old tweets to more recent ones.

Trump isn’t the only public figure facing or who has faced this issue. Conservative talk show host Tomi Lahren has also faced criticism for old tweets she posted as a college student. There are entire websites dedicated to cataloging social media posts by prominent individuals. Politwoops, for example, claims to track deleted tweets by public officials, including both candidates and those currently in office.

So what can an individual do to protect themselves from this type of criticism?

Vet Old Posts

It’s a good idea to occasionally scroll through your personal social feeds and delete posts that could potentially be misconstrued. Take your career goals into consideration when doing this, especially if you started using social media at a young age. High school and college students should take care to remove any inappropriate posts prior to job searching. Aspiring musicians, actors, and other public figures should take caution as well to remove content that could tarnish the brand they’re trying to establish. When in doubt about a post, it’s better to remove it.

Take Private Conversations Offline

Social media is a convenient way for internet users to quickly get their message across to multiple people at once, but sometimes it’s best to forego convenience and take conversations offline. When carrying on a conversation that’s more serious in nature, it makes more sense to use a private medium to convey information rather than posting to a public website. Conversations that occur online can be catalogued and used against you in the future.

Take Steps to Solidify Your Current Image Online

Even if precautionary steps have been taken, there is still a chance that an unfavorable post or image will slip through the cracks and become a source of criticism at a later date. Unfortunately, these photos could also emerge on other websites, polluting your search results. Should you find yourself in this situation, it may make sense to seek help from a professional to remove images from Google that don’t represent who you are. In all cases however, it’s important to forge ahead and solidify your current positive image online, showcasing the individual you are today as opposed to who you were when the post in question was published.

Establish a Well-Rounded Image

Be sure that more information exists about you online, aside from just what you’ve posted on social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can give internet users some information about you as a person, but they may not tell the whole story. It’s important to establish a well-rounded image online that includes information about your professional life, charitable work or other accomplishments – not just your opinions on social media.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Once an old post has been noticed by critics, you’ll have to deal with any articles written about it as well. Even if you’ve removed the post in question from your feed, articles featuring images of the post will live on, potentially ranking prominently in search results for your name. Once the problem has spread to multiple sources, it will take a more holistic approach to correct. Positive content, including favorable news articles, professional information, and social media profiles that positively reflect your image should all rank at the forefront of your search results.