Most of us have been there, done that and had the red face to prove it.

In the old days, things like this usually died a well-deserved death after a while – but it’s a different story now. Social media has changed everything. Just ask Trevor Noah. The Daily Show host found himself in hot water earlier this year after a YouTube clip of one of his 2013 shows resurfaced on Twitter.

He starts the skit by saying, “All women of every race can be beautiful.” But then he goes on: “I know some of you are sitting there now going, ‘Oh Trevor, yeah, but I’ve never seen a beautiful Aborigine’.”

The clip has since been removed but the damage was done. Australians called for a boycott of his upcoming Down Under tour and Trevor had to do serious damage control.

Dodgy tweets he’d made in the past also slithered out of slumber back into the public eye. Which begs the question: could Trevor have done anything to avoid all this?

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A social media audit might have done him a world of good. It’s something we should all do regularly – the embarrassing, the crude, the crass, the flippant and the sarcastic could all come back to bite us one day.

“Your social media presence is a billboard to the world,” says US consumer tech expert Katie Linendoll.

“Social media such as Twitter and Facebook have 10 years of archives you can dig through. This is the time to be thinking, ‘Do I need a digital clean-up?’”

Here’s how:

Facebook

Your first instinct may be to start going through every post that appears, but thankfully there’s an easier way.

From your profile page, click the Activity Log button on your cover photo. This view won’t only show your posts but every single one of your actions on Facebook, including posts you’re tagged in and even random comments, pictures and pages you’ve liked.

You can also view posts by year or search for keywords (such as “office Christmas party”). If the post wasn’t shared by you, you won’t be able to remove it. But if you’re tagged in it, you have three options:

1. Hide it from your timeline (click the drop-down arrow under the poster’s name and select the option).

The post will no longer be visible to your friends – unless they’re friends with the person who originally posted it. S Remove the tag so your profile will no longer be connected to the post. To do this, hover over your name and choose Remove Tag.

2. Flag the post. Click on Options (the three dots on the top right) > Give Feedback on this Photo and select the appropriate comment. If Facebook reviews the content and finds no problems with it, your only other option is to ask the poster to remove it.

3. For future posts: turn on Facebook’s built-in Timeline Review.

Turning on this feature means no post you’re tagged in will become visible to your friends until you approve it. You’ll find the function in the Activity Log section. To activate it, click on the gear icon on the top right of the window and select Enabled in the drop-down menu. Good to know If you want to delete your Facebook account but don’t want to lose all your pictures, videos and memories you can download them all in a few clicks.

Go to Settings > General. Click on the Go to Your Facebook Information link at the top of the window, and click Download your information, which includes the pages you’ve liked and the advertising you’ve responded to.

The information will download as a zip file and you’ll be able to choose which folder on your computer you’d like to save it to. Once it’s downloaded, right click on it and select Extract All.

This will unzip the file, creating a new Facebook folder in the same place, which you can now open. The subfolders inside will reflect what you chose to download from Facebook. You’ll find your photos inside the Photos and Videos subfolder.

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Twitter

If you’re a regular tweeter, the thought of combing through everything thing you’ve posted over the years can be pretty daunting.

Mercifully with programs such as Tweet Deleter (tweetdeleter.com), the process is much simpler.

You’ll be able to sort tweets according to date ranges, keywords or media type (for instance video or text), deleting tweets by selecting check boxes next to each one. Unfortunately, the free version of the web-based service only allows users to delete five tweets a day, but it’s still a useful tool for sifting through posts.

If you want an immediate fresh start, you can delete every tweet (provided there are fewer than 3 000) by signing up to the premium version for $9,99 (R134) a month.

Deleting a tweet within Twitter itself is pretty easy – simply select the down arrow icon on the top right of the tweet and choose Delete Tweet. The tweet will also disappear from the timeline of anyone who’s retweeted it.

Unfortunately, if someone has screengrabbed your posts and tweeted that there’s nothing you can do unless you get the poster to delete it themselves.

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Instagram

Since this platform is all about beautiful pictures, it’s likely you’ve been more selective about what you’ve shared. But if you haven’t, you’ll have to scroll through your feed to find those Insta-regrets To delete a post, select the three dots above it and opt for Delete.

You can also choose to archive the post so other users can’t see it. Remember, others will be able to see posts you’ve been tagged in.

To remove that tag, view the photo within the app and tap on your name. Depending on your phone, you’ll chose Remove Tag or More Options > Remove Me from Post.