An article that will appear in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine takes a look at exactly how much information about us is available online. According to this lengthy story, if we don’t bother to tinker with privacy settings or protect our information in some way, especially on social networking sites, any Google-savvy searcher has a large, clear window into our work, social and personal lives.
The article includes several anecdotes of people whose digital trails have gotten them into trouble. A 25-year-old woman working as a teacher’s aide was denied her teaching certificate after she uploaded a picture of herself dressed as a pirate and drinking out of a plastic cup, labeled it “Drunken Pirate,” and set it as her profile picture on Facebook. She sued, citing first amendment rights, but lost. A 16-year-0ld Brit was fired from her job after announcing she was “so totally bored” on Facebook at work. A Canadian who tried to visit the U.S. was barred from entry after a border guard Googled him and found an academic paper he had written in which he admitted to using LSD 30 years ago.
Whether people consider this ethical or not, it’s a conundrum we’ll all have to face soon, if we haven’t already: should we just be honest on the Internet and attempt to live our lives uncensored by our own privacy settings, or should we clean ourselves up for a more impressive presentation that will potentially save us from getting in trouble or facing rejection?
It’s especially important for recent college graduates like me to decide what to do with all the photos, video clips and written words associated with our names that aren’t employer-friendly. Should we think twice before posting that hilarious picture from last night? Should we avoid relaying last night’s events to our friends on the Internet, even metaphorically? Should we take down the blogs we kept in high school where there exist badly-written ten-paragraph diatribes on horrible teachers, cute boys and backstabbing friends?
For me, the answer is “no”–mostly because I’m not a rebellious, wild, scandalous person. None of the pictures of me on Facebook involve illegal drinking, drugs or anything that could be construed as lewd behavior. Half my family and most of my family friends are granted full access to all those pictures and my entire Facebook profile. I don’t talk about my personal life online, but I also don’t talk about it outside the Internet to anyone I don’t trust or know well.
I believe in presenting myself honestly to any possible future employers. I think they deserve to know from a Google search exactly what they’d be getting themselves into by hiring me (which, considering my personality, is really nothing bad anyway). After all, if they do take me on, they’ll get to know the real me soon enough anyway.