Everyone has had moments we are less than proud of in hindsight. It happens because making mistakes and learning from them is a critical part of the process of growing up. The problem is that thanks to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, camera phones, etc. those mistakes are being documented, archived and analyzed like never before. This means that the night you got really drunk and put a comment on a friends discussion board detailing your brief flirtation with Satanism in college can come back to have serious effects that haunt you for years to come.
The most immediate impact can be with future employers who have gotten very sophisticated in using in using the web to research potential candidates. Microsoft recently did a survey that found 75 percent of recruiters and HR managers do online research on new candidates using search engines, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, personal Web sites, blogs and even online gaming sites to find out about what you have been up to. If you are surprised by that then you should know that 70 percent of the people in the survey said they rejected candidates because of information they found online while doing those searches. We are also going to see this trend continue to have a greater impact as Facebook continues to try to move private information into the public realm and this past April it was announced that every public tweet since Twitter’s inception in March 2006 will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress.
We are helping this process as we consolidate our digital selves in fewer and fewer sites without being consciously aware that the content we create through our posts and tweets combines to makes up your new digital identity and reputation. These identities and reputations grow every day and as we become more comfortable with the technology and are lulled into blurring the lines between our public and private selfs. So as we look beyond this trend and as social media continues to expand the question becomes how do we deal this new reality where simple mistakes can profoundly affect your life and you have little recourse to get rid of embarrassing or inaccurate information?
I recently read a really interesting possible solution from Jonathan Zittrain who teaches cyberlaw at Harvard Law School in his book ‘The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It‘. He suggested that people should be allowed to declare ‘reputation bankruptcy’ that would clean out certain sensitive information you want out of the public digital record. The concept is similar to your financial wellness where the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows you to dispute negative or inaccurate information on your credit report.
It is obvious that as social media and our digital reputations evolve to become more sophisticated that some type of solution like this is going to be necessary to police the data in your digital identity both real and manufactured. If not then not only will your youthful indiscretions haunt you for years to come to it will become open season for every jilted ex-employee to trash their boss’ reputation online leaving the victim no legal recourse to remove it.