Sunday, October 10, 2010

Librarian Offline: Are Your Posts Forgotten?

For one of my MLIS classes this semester I read the article “The Web Means the End of Forgetting” by Jeffrey Rosen which appeared in The New York Times Magazine on July 25, 2010. As users of social networking sites, the article should interest book bloggers. The article raises many interesting ideas about an individual’s privacy online and how one’s online reputation affects the real world.

So, you’ve set up of your Twitter account and have a Facebook account, too. And you blog regularly. You have set your privacy controls to limit who can see what. But...

Did you know that the Library of Congress keeps every tweet?

Did you know that a Facebook friend can post a picture of you without your permission and that anyone who is friends with your friend can download that picture and do whatever he/she wants with it?

Did you know that …“75 percent of U.S. recruiters and human-resource professionals report that their companies require them to do online research about candidates, and many use a range of sites when scrutinizing applicants -- including search engines, social-networking sites, photo- and video-sharing sites, personal Web sites and blogs, Twitter and online-gaming sites. Seventy percent of U.S. recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information found online…(Rosen).”

The article brings up a question that my classmates have been discussing – is there such a thing as an “off-duty” persona? Librarians are public servants, often in the public eye and know their patrons personally. They are frequently approached in grocery stores and in their homes about library issues. This being the case, Librarians often feel as though they are “on” all the time – constantly watched, constantly scrutinized. Of course, this perception of being “on” changes from person to person and community to community.

There are social websites such as Second Life which have become popular for librarians to hang out on. Many librarians blog about their work places, too. And a few, just a few, have come under fire for speaking their minds about their workplaces. Some librarians have been told to cease blogging about their library or they will be fired (instances of this are explored in Marilyn Johnson’s This Book is Overdue!). This is odd since the library is usually the protector of free speech.

But these scenarios raise the question: Is perfectly legal, off-duty activity our employer's business? Are we not entitled to a private life?

People deserve second chances if for no other reason than that we are human. We make mistakes but we also learn from them and change. In order to get a second chance we need people to forgive us our foolishness. And forgiveness requires a measure of forgetfulness.

The article suggests that online content is not easily forgotten. Once someone puts up a negative tweet about you it is out there forever. Once you post an embarrassing picture of yourself it is, potentially, out there forever. Go to Google now and look up “drunken pirate” and you’ll find the infamous MySpace photo of Stacy Snyder who was denied her teaching degree as a result of this photo. Is her perfectly legal off-duty activity her university’s business? Regardless of how you feel about her activity, doesn’t she deserve a second chance? Shouldn’t she be able to wipe the slate clean and start over? Think about employers who Google her (or you) – will they be willing to overlook her (or your) online reputation?

Think critically about yourself. What political groups are you affiliated with? What religion? What’s your stance on issue “X” that you vocally blogged about? What pictures did you post from last summer? Now what will future employers, who hire experts to identify you online, think about your online reputation?

The article mentions law experts who think individuals should have more privacy protection online so that hiring and firing is not based on online gossip or an embarrassing photo that was only intended to be shared with friends. One expert suggests that individuals should be able to file for “reputation bankruptcy” which would clean the slate every decade much like consumer-reporting agencies. Consumer-reporting agencies are required to give you one free credit report each year. Wouldn’t it be nice if social networking sites sent you a report each year, letting you know where pictures of you are and what comments were made about you, so you had a chance to refute those comments or delete tags of you in photos?

Our world is increasingly shrinking into a global village. It doesn’t matter if you have an account on these websites if others who know you, and post things about you, do. Privacy issues are and will continue to be an area of debate. What can we do if our reputations are largely out of our hands? As the article suggests, show empathy and cut people some slack when you see a tarnished online reputation of someone else.

The Web Means the End of Forgetting” New York Times Magazine, The (NY) - Sunday, July 25, 2010


  1. Thanks for this post. It definitely will make me more paranoid now because this is precisely the reason why I do not do Facebook nor Tweeter and I blog anonymously.

  2. A very interesting post on an important issue. Thanks for a great read.

  3. I was told to take my website offline by my workplace... apparently I do not have any freedom of speech just because I work there...

  4. Cherry, I'm sorry to hear that! It's a shame.

    Issues like this are becoming more prevalent and I don't think we hear enough about it except when it involves a scandal. I hope people realize privacy issues online affect everyone now and not just a few unaware people who post outlandish things.

  5. This is a major issue. I try to watch what I say on FB or my blogs. I try to butt out of what my kids do on FB, but I do watch and they have gotten the text from me... change your status NOW! :) I usually stay on my side of the internet, but hey, I do realize who's watching!

    PS - found your blog in the fellow Iowans section of English Major's blog...Hey from Maquoketa! :)

  6. Interesting post - I am very careful of what I post on any public sites. Being a teacher, I'm always afraid my students will see something about my personal life they shouldn't - even though I'm not exactly living the life of a rock star! :) Fortunately with FB, you can alter your privacy settings, although that may not include photos you are tagged in.