So Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt has come out and warned that young people will be entitled one day to change their names so that they can escape online and social media activity that’s been recorded and could hinder their future.
The fact that young people or anybody else might need to change their name is not in my opinion what is shocking, but that society would prejudge people based on what they might have got-up to during their youth.
It’s an astonishing claim from Google, given the amount of data that they cache.
Danny Dover’s recent SEOmoz.org blog post - The Evil Side of Google? Exploring Google's User Data Collection - gives you an idea of what search engines such as Google have stored. I would recommend that you read his post to get a clear understanding of how vulnerable reputations have become. And why are they so vulnerable? Well, the fact that people are sharing information makes the net a great place for data mining for investigative journalists.
Let’s remember the case of Stuart MacLennan, a prospective Labour candidate, who before seeking nomination to stand for Labour in Moray referred to pensioners as “coffin dodgers”, the common’s speaker John Bercow as a “opportunist little twat” and referring to Fairtrade he demanded a “slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified” banana. Of course he didn’t say this in person, but Tweeted it to his followers some time before he sought the Labour party’s nomination. Needless to say that it was a journalist who unveiled his comments, which led to the then Prime Minster Gordon Brown to sack him. So, should he change his name? Possibly not because in politics nearly everything is forgiven.
With social networking having taken a front seat in the way in which we communicate the watchword for managing a reputation is something that would have sounded odious some time ago. That word is self-censorship, something that in ‘pluralistic’ countries happens just to conform to the expectations of the wider community.
The big question is my opinion is whether social media will makes us more tolerant or more authoritarian?
And for those who might be using lawyers to get libellous content removed from a web-site, while lawyers can enforce an order on the hosting company, getting the cache-trail cleaned up is a different question all together.