Sunday, July 25, 2010

Digital Permanence

It's true that educators have always faced more stringent standards for public behavior. Rules for dating behavior from the early 1800's have been modified, but the fact remains that a teacher is still expected to be a moral exemplar in the community, a shining role model for students.

The integration of the Internet in our daily lives means that anyone can monitor another's actions via the Web. It is no longer possible to have a work self, an after-hours self, or even an I'm-with-my-high-school-friends self. The proliferation of social networking sites means that all these selves are visible to anyone: employers, friends, business associates, and family. It's not 1984, but Big Brother is watching closely, this time through the multitude of users searching the World Wide Web. Multiple selves just aren't possible anymore. You are the complete package, take it or leave it.

You may be asking, so what? This is nothing new. However, the permanence of images and posts on the Internet is receiving more attention. As the linked New York Times article notes, educators are helping students think about the implications of such permanence. The European Union produced a campaign called "Think B4 U post!" to help young people think about the consequences of publishing photos of themselves or friends. Also, we've heard too many stories about the longevity of cyberbullying when nasty posts are left for others to view ad infinitum. It won't be too long before people will be able to take a picture of you on the street and then use that photo to search for other images of you on the Internet. When combined with data aggregation software, analysis, and live video, the possibility of finding inappropriate moments for anyone are almost guaranteed.

What can we do about the situation? We can demand the right to new beginnings and the right to self definition. Some say to limit our presence on the Web and avoid social networking sites, but in this day and age, that is an impossibility! We can establish positive virtual identities, perhaps using services such as ReputationDefenders. We can push for new legislation similar to the Fair Credit Reporting Act that limits the ability of servers to publish unwelcome images after a set period of time. We can push for new technology to monitor our virtual image. Nonetheless, most people seem to be concerned about valid, but embarrassing posts they make themselves. Perhaps we can take advantage of services such as Mail Goggles, a voluntary late-night email service from Google Mail, that helps patrons avoid embarrassing drunken emails, asking users to complete simple math problems before an email will be sent out. We can monitor and define our image via sites such as Yet all the legislation and technology will do nothing if we don't monitor our behavior before acting.

So, what's my best advice? Assume that EVERYTHING you do or say is visible to others, or will be shared with others. Think of yourself as a fabulously hot celebrity, where everyone wants the dish on everything you do or think.  It may be more comforting to believe that you are being sought after, rather than hunted down. In any case, watch your step. Your career may depend upon your digital footprint.

Here's the fabulous article that got me thinking:
The Web Means the End of Forgetting -

Here's the website for GetUnvarnished:

Here's a link to more info. about Mail Goggles:
Official GMail Blog

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