Saturday, February 7, 2009

I'm Ensnared by the Net(working Sites)

Over the course of this past week, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering internet identity. A few days ago, I convinced a close friend to join Facebook. As college students active on campus, it’s a useful communication tool – that’s undeniable. However, it’s also a pain. Facebook doubles as Stalkerbook for many. It’s great for the passive-aggressive “frienemy” looking for embarrassing pictures or blackmail-worth gossip about their chosen target. IT’s also good for keeping up on general gossip about friends without them knowing.

The trouble with posting your private life’s events on the internet, whether it be through MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or the many other networking sites, is that it creates a permanent record available to all. The moment something is posted, it’s at the mercy of its audience. Sure, the poster can go back and edit things in or out. That just isn’t enough, though. Anyone can take this post, copy and paste it, save it, and bring it back up next time I spout appreciation for Facebook and Twitter. (I’m on both, by the way.)

Recently, I’ve been talking with a professor about the virtues and flaws of Facebook. The department has created a page, and begged faculty to make profiles and befriend the department. They created an internet persona, realized it was friendless, and then begged others to do the same to appease the chair (or, more likely, my school’s money-hungry administration). Does no one else see the silliness of this? Anyway. This professor and I have been pondering the ins and outs of posting your personal life online, accessible to everyone in your current circle of friends and family, as well as old classmates, old friends, former flames, former employers, future employers, future acquaintances, and countless strangers. Logically, it’s a bad idea.

“Just censor yourself,” they say. Easier said than done. As Facebook celebrates its fifth year, stories are popping up about professors who have gotten into trouble over snarky comments and silly pictures. Do I need to mention the tens of thousands of college students searching for jobs with pictures of beer bongs and stupid costumes plastered all over the internet? People forget that the internet is not simply a receptacle of your silly thoughts and doings. It’s a record. When those memories sift towards the back of your online photo albums or book reviews, they’re still stored away in this virtual filing cabinet, just waiting to be dragged back out into the light.

Now, I’m not saying that the networking sites are evil. Far from it, really. I began blogging on LiveJournal sometime around 2002, and haven’t looked back. Since then, I’v had at least a dozen blogs – most of which I can’t remember the name of. Over the summer, I joined Twitter. For a few years, now, I’ve been meaning to start vlogging on YouTube. While Google-ing myself earlier today, I came across book reviews written by a 13-year-old self, bemoaning the trials and tribulations of a young teenager. I’m not sure how to go about getting those taken down, or even if I should try to do so. I do wonder, though, what my future employer and coworkers will think when they come across my thoughts on The Ultimate Babysitter’s Handbook and Ella Enchanted (which I deemed to be “The PERFECT Book”). I just hope that they don’t find that old LiveJournal.

So if I’m so against leaving a virtual paper trail and creating a skewable internet identity, why am I blogging? I suppose I’m a hypocrite. What’s my point? I’m not sure, exactly. After all, I did convince my friend and my professor that it’s alright to join Facebook. I suppose I’m asking everyone (and reminding myself) to be careful. Be aware. Beware.

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