Sunday, June 5, 2011

Saturday's Scribe - some thoughts on "Social Media"

With acknowledgement to "Thoughts on Facebook", by Tracy Mitrano, April 2006
Full article at Cornell University - policies & social networking


A long time ago, back in the days of ‘chat rooms’, there was a young lady who used a university chat room to post some facts about her ‘conquests’ and gave a running report after particular events. What a surprise when she went for her first job interview, all nicely tailored in a new dress suit and armed with a good degree from a valued institution. She was rejected. Fortunately for her, there was a friendly person already in the firm’s employ who told her the reason. The HR person on the hiring committee had looked her up on the University Internet and found the boasting posting! Frantically, the student called the university officials asking them to remove it. Alas, they could not help her, because a commercial ISP was the domain of the posted information. In took time, however, the young lady learned about the labyrinthine procedure in which she had to engage in order to have the posting removed. It never occurred to her that a few relatively harmless boasts could cause her so much trouble. Think about not only your marketability today as a cool guy or girl in your college social circle, but who you might want to be in five or ten years when posting an "identity" on the Internet. Remember, just because it is a new technology does not absolve you of the responsibility to use it in legal and appropriate ways — including taking into account your obligations regarding proper conduct as a citizen of the university.


In the days before Google became the dominant search engine for the Internet, ISPs that sported chat rooms had policies regarding caching information. Nowadays, Google is the main corporate entity with which one deals when it comes to cached information. To date, Google has tended to be good about removing material within a certain number of days pursuant to a proper request. But let's take a step back and see what caching means. Caching, in effect, means that if you post something on an interactive technology program, let's say for a day or two, just to be funny or to make a point, even if you take it down or change it, it remains accessible to the rest of the world on the Internet anyway.

Take a moment to think about how you want to "brand" yourself on the Internet. Almost everyone is more complex of a person than a single label can explain, but for most people it takes time and effort, if not real friendship, to get to know people's complexities. Don't give people an excuse to think of you in a single dimensional way. Instead of trying just to fit into a single group, think about yourself as an interesting person with depth of personality and character.


I am sure you have all heard that with freedom comes responsibility. Social media are an excellent example of that adage. It is time for you to make your own decisions about who you want to be. We all would like to believe you are of an age and maturity that it is time you learned about freedom and responsibility for yourself. It also means, however, that it is up to you to set your own limits and create your own identity and to be responsible for the consequences, given that you live in the real world of rules, judicial discipline, employers with their own interests as well as other people who, like it or not, will make judgments about what they see.


You also might want to take a moment and reflect on the physical safety of this tool when posting information about yourself. No expectation of privacy combined with the full range of humanity represented in these forums means that you may be exposing yourself to someone who may not have the same values, assumptions about appropriate behavior or may even have a mental defect or disease which could put you at risk as a victim of criminal behavior. Very likely you would not place a placard in the front of your house describing intimate details of your personal life, private sexual matters, detailed comings and goings or anything else that someone less careful and competent than you might construe as an invitation for communication or even harassment and stalking that could prove dangerous. Use physical space as your guide. What you wouldn't put on a poster on your front door you might want to think two or three times about posting on-line.

With the freedom to post what you want comes the responsibility to do so in your interests not only for today, but also for who and what you want to be tomorrow. And also think of your personal safety. Cyberspace can have the effect of creating an illusion of intimacy that could prove dangerous for you in reality. Use the manners and mores of behavior in physical space both in how you present yourself and how you interpret other people on-line as a guide.


Most of the time when we talk about social media it is a very individual matter. There is yet another angle to consider: the privacy of others. "Privacy" is a complicated matter in law. It evokes everything from civil rights, to, "to be let alone" in our person.

Watch what you say! If you post an alleged fact about someone that proves incorrect, you may be liable for damages under either defamation or libel. Moreover, if you post photographs or information about someone that can be construed to be an "invasion of their privacy" then you may be liable for a tort under the broad rubric of "privacy."

Think not only about what identity you create for yourself online, but also how you represent others. At the very least, be sure that you take their feelings into account. You would not want to find yourself as a defendant in a tort case that alleged you invaded their privacy. Always follow the "Golden Rule." Don't say anything about someone else that you would not want said about yourself. And be gentle with yourself too! What might seem fun or spontaneous, given caching technologies, might prove to be a liability to an on-going sense of your identity over the longer course of history. Remember that technology does not absolve one of responsibility. Behind every device, behind every new program, behind every technology is a law, a social norm, a business practice that warrants thoughtful consideration.

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