Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hush...the Net has ears...

An employee fired for calling her job boring. A cop losing a case as he made claims that ran counter to what he had stated in court. Multiple instances of college pics and party photos resulting in candidates loosing interview calls.

They probably deserved it is the general feeling. Except in the above cases, the revelations about the people involved all happened online on social networking sites. They were not overheard or caught in real life. The mentioned people incriminated themselves. Somebody investigated their wall postings and public album collections.

We Homo-sapiens are social creatures. We know how to sweet talk some one discreetly. Spread rumors and appear professional when some one asks us where we see our selves five years from now. We can handle peers and pressure because of two factors. Nature and Nurture. I.e. we have brought up to pick up behavioral cues about people around us or the skills are inborn. Many generations of nurture training fail us when online behavior is considered. We are not able to perceive how far our party picture will go; Our own sphere of influence. In the offline world we would choose to show it to say 7 close friends who we can trust because we directly interact with them. Also the photos are still physically with you.

In the online world. The ability to multiply infinitely the photos causes serious issues. Plus let’s say you trust seven similar people with the photos. Even if one of those seven fail in discretion, you now have the equivalent of infinite photos on the net. Imagine the shock of employees who were fired because their boss found some college snap “not consistent with the corporate philosophy”.

The boss was not on the friends list but still found out. We would continue to see this trend in the future because how counter intuitive the online world really is. Let’s say you want to tell your friend you have a boring job. You would generally check the surroundings, lower your voice and tell him if you trust him. Even if this friend betrays you, we can possibly deny totally what we are accused of. In the Online world, it’s hard to keep track of who is watching you. We forget who is on our friends list and often they might be people we have fallen out with. People generate hundreds of photos every year and it is difficult to keep track of whom you are sharing it with. The internet is simply not intuitive. And the worst part about the internet is that there is always proof left behind. Your not-too- honorable friend we just spoke about now has a screenshot to prove his case.

The non intuitive characteristic of the net also cost many cheerleaders and teachers their jobs in the United States when they were found in what is called "pictures not reflecting expected behavior standards". Ten years back the person involved may have carried on with whatever they were accused of silently. But now it’s broadcast on the net and all it takes is one leak. One person or computer or account to be compromised and often carriers go down. Similarly every tweet, bog post and email is now a permanent record that can be used in mind numbing number of ways to slander people.

It would not be surprising if self censorship steps in soon on a large scale. We might have to worry like celebrities about what we say, had said or dressed like might be used against us somewhere anytime in the future.