The Woes of Web 2.0

From CNN comes yet another story about people who disclose too much information on their blogs and social network websites:

On a Facebook group that celebrates young women getting drunk, there’s no such thing as going too far.

One young woman dances on top of a bar. Another sits on the toilet drinking a beer. Several vomit. One appears with a bruised and bandaged face (“I just got drunk and fell out of a car,” she writes.). In another photo, two women urinate into a waterfall.

What you won’t find on this page — called “Thirty Reasons Girls Should Call it a Night” — is humiliation and embarrassment. For the most part, the women post the photos themselves, seemingly with pride. This makes many adults — teachers, counselors, parents — worry that students aren’t thinking through the consequences of showing themselves drunk to the world.

Many photos on the site are accompanied by full names and the colleges the women attend, apparently without much concern that parents, or potential employers, will take a look.

Recently, a commenter to one of my posts pointed me to this apt cartoon at Geek Culture’s The Joy of Tech.


Used with permission.

Will having embarrassing information on the Internet affect people’s employment prospects in the future? Or will it all just grow passé? Are we witnessing a generational shift, where people will just get used to being more exposed than ever before? Will people be less harsh in judging others, as everybody will have their drunk naked photos and other private information online? Or will there be consequences and regrets? Only time will tell, but I find it to be an interesting issue for cultural speculation.

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3 Responses

  1. Adam says:

    The Facebook group example is something of a strawman — in that case, you’re talking about a lack of judgment that you wouldn’t want to risk in an employee. In the short term, both the posters and the employers will have to undergo some adjustment, but eventually some sort of equilibrium will be reached there.

    A much more worrisome issue, to my mind, is whether potential hires will be judged on other, more innocuous things — marriage (you can take off your wedding ring for an interview, but not on your Facebook page, or you’ll have some explaining to do), politics, religion, etc. There’s a problem when interviewers can find answers to questions that would simply be inappropriate to ask in public.

    Ultimately, I think what we’re going to have to acknowledge is that we need to take a long, hard look at the convenient fiction separating work and personal life (and really, for many in the corporate world who’ll be most concerned about the issues raised here, the distinction is already moot for all practical purposes, thanks to Blackberrys). The fact that employees — especially young employees — go get drunk with their friends didn’t start with Facebook and Myspace. The faux outrage (I’m shocked — shocked!) is about confusion in the face of a rapidly eroding social fiction and people not knowing how to deal with it.

    Frankly, though, I’m not convinced that the situation will improve — it’ll just be about who games the system and who doesn’t. The fact that everyone’s parents had to have sex at least once per child (twins notwithstanding) hasn’t made the topic any less taboo, and I suspect that the same will hold true here.

  2. Anon221 says:

    Here’s the law and economics answer, right? Since posting one’s youthful, drunken antic on facebook doesn’t alter a potential employee’s ability to get the job done well, and indeed, since employees without facebook pages are likely doing the same kind of thing, the market will render these kinds of issues meaningless. If one firm doesn’t hire said person because of the facebook page, a competitor will, and will prosper as a result if that employee is truly good at the job.

    But of course that’s nonsense. The real answer is cultural. One generation has a cultural norm of putting oneself on the web, in all kinds of compromising states, without blinking. An older generation finds this to be evidence of poor judgment. In the short term, young people who adhere to their own generation’s norms will fare less well than those who suck up the their elders and conform to old fogies norms. Once a critical mass of younger people rise in firms, however, they won’t flinch before hiring someone with a youtube video or a webpage that, to an elder, would be viewed as scandalous.

  3. John says:

    Since privacy and personal safety go hand in hand I think it’s a mistake to think people will voluntarily let go of both and learn to accept it.

    It’s a new problem and so the only way to measure or predict how people in general may respond, is to observe the reactions of people it’s happened too. Those folks have responded strongly and found it deeply disturbing. We’ve seen the extreme reaction of suicides, lawsuits and overall disconnecting completely from online life (even if it means a change in career).

    We forget our “flight” or “fight” response to pervieced attacks. It’s our biological, primative way of handling any situation that threatens our personal safety.

    Since “fighting” isn’t really an option here (Sec 230 of the CDA), by default people will respond by fleeing the situation. In fact, not being able to visually see your attacker makes it even more terrifying to the victims. Translated into internet terms, users will leave. It need not happen to somebody first hand, hearing news stories involving online horrors is enough for people to fear personal safety and bail.

    Asian countries recognized the problem much sooner than we did, and at least attempted to curb it. We tend to favor the writer and file it under free speech. We’re filing this problem in the wrong folder. Financially we’ll pay for that error later.

    Leaving us here, with Japan already working on something new. They are designing an entirely new internet to be released in the next 10 years or so. An internet they promise to be safe, secure and of all things “more charming”. What does it mean? In 10 years Google vs Japan’s internet, will be like a Hummer vs. Prius. If we don’t fix this glitch and guarantee personal safety, we’ll lose users and therefore dollars.

    Consider Japan’s law on privacy (developed in 2003 passed in 2005)

    Then consider the new Internet they’ve already starting developing:

    The average person will bail before sacraficing personal safety. Fastforward 10 years, who will win the users trust?