Searching "Carlos Cardenas"
Throughout my earlier years, I thought that I was pretty open in regards to my online presence. In my youth, I had naive perceptions about information’s accessibility online. As I got older and more conscious about my online presence, I acted more judiciously. Going into the search for my online identity I was expecting to find remnants of my pre/early teens, bracing myself for the occasional cringeworthy thing I might find. When I began by Googling just “Carlos Cardenas”, I learned that a) there are a lot of people named Carlos Cardenas, some in the United States and some not, and b) that for pages at a time, none of the results had to do with me. On the 8th page of clicking every result from my search, I gave up. I was more than a little surprised. Looking back, I thought I was pretty stupid about how I interacted online in my youth. Perhaps I didn’t give myself enough credit for my internet street-smarts?
"Carlos Cardenas" + Social Media Platform
I tried to get more specific now based on the platform. “Carlos Cardenas” appended with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you get the picture. Nothing. My online presence seemed like a vast and empty desert. I could not fathom the fact that despite me being so active with technology and the internet that I literally had nothing regarding me from the results. Afterwards though, I thought to myself - shouldn’t this be a good thing? Shouldn’t I be glad that it seems as if young Carlos didn’t exist? Teenagers can be dumb and cringey - maybe it’s ideal if that presence was invisible? I then realized that I knew the key to finding my specific online traces - and I alone. I think this is the case because my more relaxed and engaged online persona these days isn’t really tied to my name, so in order to find it, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for.
The Tradeoff of Professionalism
I do truly feel like I have more than one version of me that has an online presence. One is clean-cut and pampered, and something that I present to family and professional interests. This is where Facebook and LinkedIn come into play, which I eventually found easier to find myself on. There does exist another side of me that is presented elsewhere and is less likely to be identifiable. This is my more casual, relaxed, meme-lord side - a side I wouldn’t want potential employers to find. It’s nothing heinous or “cancellable” (I think I’m a pretty good person), but it is a space where I engage with some of my hobbies and interests with the occasional use of strong language - maybe not the best thing to find if you’re deciding whether to bring me in for an interview. When I googled “Carlos Cardenas Michigan”, my LinkedIn page was actually the first result. My LinkedIn page has a nice and suited-up headshot photo of me. It lists that I am a University of Michigan student studying computer science as well as some of my extracurriculars and where I went to high school. The purpose my LinkedIn serves is to show my best professional side and to impress potential employers. All of the information authentic, but with some intentional omissions of things like my university transcript. Not that I’m ashamed of my transcript, but I had mediocre results in a couple of classes freshman year that I don’t think are representative of my innate aptitude. Like I alluded to earlier, employers can advertise a casual and more innovative atmosphere, but internally their bar is likely much higher. Why risk it? I think this brings up a conundrum in the employment space. In my internship/job hunting experience, employers tout how they want applicants to be themselves or promote a casual and open culture. Despite that claim, any applicant seeking employment has to weigh a risk - present themselves as their authentic and casual selves and run the risk of an employer deeming too a little too lax to meet an understandable level of professionalism, or maintain a clean-cut presence at the cost of authenticity. One could even argue that this phenomenon causes online authenticity to crater. We are the architects of our own online presence, but someone else can indirectly be the puppetmaster of our decisions.
Searching with the Right HandleNowadays, I’m not really active on any social media. Even though I deleted my Twitter last year, some trace of it still remains. When I googled my old Twitter handle, I found my old Twitter bio cached in the results. Granted, when you actually try to access the page, it informs you it doesn’t exist.
As it turns out, the identity I assumed under this handle actually turned out to be the most powerful link between me and my online presences. If someone was able to discern that I used this handle, they could find a lot. Google Image searching with this handle returned what I was looking for this whole time. For instance, a photo of me dabbing from my sophomore year of high school.
Another thing you could find from this is that I am active on Reddit. Mostly a lurker, but you could figure out what my interests are. I’m into anti-cilantro subreddits, because cilantro is disgusting. You’d also find that I’m into Pokemon, Attack on Titan, and Mass Effect. What surprised me most about Googling myself with this handle is that it led to my very old and very defunct Tumblr account. This surprised me because my Tumblr handle was different from the Twitter and Reddit handle I used. So how is it that Google knew to present this Tumblr account when I searched for my Twitter handle, despite there being no connection between them? I have no idea, and it kind of spooks me.
Data Broker: Waste of Money
Seeing these results, I wanted to try another source. I wanted to see how well a paid data broker service would fare by just having my name, age, hometown to go off of. I turned to a service called InstantCheckmate. Feeling both excited and slightly nervous to see what information could be found by a paid service, I generated a report that I know was meant to be about me (it was listed for Carlos Cardenas, age 20, from Troy, Michigan). The report that I received was rather disappointing, as the information it gave about me was quite scant. It generated more information about my father than it did for me. Some context regarding that: I was named after my father. So while this instills into me a large sense of pride, it does make the task of finding information that is specific to me all the more difficult. Quite frankly, when I was Googling my name, nothing really came up for my dad either. This wasn’t surprising though since he only really uses Facebook. For me, InstantCheckmate knew that my full name was Carlos Alberto Cardenas, with Carlos Cardenas Jr. being one of my known aliases (thanks Dad). It correctly knew that I was born on June 1st, 2000. It knew my permanent address, and the sale price and its current valuation of the house. However, it was listed under the assets section, which means it is referring to the house under the context of being under my dad’s ownership. It matches the information that my parents have told me about the house, so it does seem authentic. Beyond that, the InstantCheckmate report gave me nothing noteworthy. It said I owned a Jeep Liberty… except that's a car that my dad used to own, and hasn’t for nearly 10 years. The jobs it says I have are jobs that neither I nor my father have ever worked. The social media information that InstantCheckmate found was a Facebook page that did not belong to me or my dad. My mom’s name popped as a relative, but beyond that, InstantCheckmate came up pretty dry. If they would let me get a refund, I would. I guess that given how poorly my queries for just “Carlos Cardenas” went, I shouldn’t have been surprised by this result.
While searching for traces of my online identity, my main takeaway was that if you were just looking for me based off of my name, you wouldn’t get very fair. If you knew some critical keywords, you could find what you were looking for. I found unpurposefully authentic presentations of my online identity in some places and carefully curated albeit slightly inauthentic presentations elsewhere for professional reasons. Societal pressures can bring about such a dichotomy, but if you have a common name, you have a greater likelihood of maintaining an anonymity to maintain your authentic self in your online presence