Friday, July 8, 2011

Internet "Privacy"

I'd like you to take a seat.  Get comfortable, because what I am about to say might be uncomfortable for you to hear.  Yes, those people in the room with you can stay, they need to hear it too:

I am judging you.

I don't mean to, and many times, I'm not even aware that I'm doing it.  But I am.  Every time you post something, or even if you don't post for a while, I learn something about you that either earns you a few more points in the "like" column, or a few more points in the "dislike" column.  And here's something else that's also kind of difficult to say:

I am not unique in this.  

We ALL learn about each other from the way we present ourselves and how we act, it's not just on Facebook.  It's not even exclusive to the Internet, because believe me, if you get drunk and puke on my shoes, I will notice.  The internet is different from a party however, because while I can take a shower and buy new shoes, it is virtually impossible to remove content wholly from the web.  That part was important, so I'm gonna do another bolded bullet point:

Once it's on the web, it's there forever.

Oh sure, you can write to YouTube, or Facebook, or whatever, and have the offending material removed, but dollars to donuts someone has it saved somewhere and it will resurface again.  The scarier part is that somewhere on a server is a cached copy of that video of you lighting your dog's farts.

Now I'm not telling you this to scare you, or to encourage you not to light your dog's farts... though that is pretty gross, and probably not very good for you OR your dog... point is, I'm not even the person you need to worry about.  Check out this article from Gizmodo:

That's right, kids.  Not only is it possible for potential employers to Google your name, now a company has figured out a way to do it FOR them in a way that doesn't violate fair hiring practices.  They don't look for race, religion, marital status, or kids, but they DO look for violent tendencies, references to drugs, racist remarks, and sexually explicit behavior.  What does that mean?  And I truly hope you'll pay attention to this next part:

Think before you post.

If you drop an F-bomb in a review on Yelp, they can find it.  If you twitter a picture of you wearing a Circa 1941 SS Uniform, they can find it.  If you make a comment about the president being a socialist, they can find it.  Anything connected with your name, address, email and phone number is fair game.  

But this isn't just about employers.  Your friends see your private posts, the ones those searches can't find, and believe me, they are judging you too.  Because they know that they are judged by the company they keep, just as everyone else is.  

So what am I suggesting?  Censorship?  Fear of expression?  Hardly.  But I want you to be aware that the opinions you choose to express publicly have repercussions.  This is not new.  We have always been held accountable for what we say in public, problem is, we can now say things in public from the privacy of our living room.  And once it's on the internet, the fact that you were drunk, or upset, or hadn't slept for 2 days doesn't matter.  By the time you can explain, you've already been convicted in the court of Public Opinion.

Plain text robs us of context.  It can be particularly effective for comedic purposes, but remember that for a large portion of the people you are in contact with, all they know of you is what is on your Facebook Feed, at least until the next time they see you.  The Myth that people are not the same on the internet as they are in person can no longer protect you, especially if you use your real name or any part thereof.

So please, and I say this with all the love and support I can: Choose your words carefully, you may have to eat them.