Today, the headlines wrote that Miss Nevada in the Miss America competition would be replaced by another, on the revealing of exposed breast pictures and other 'deemed inappropriate' acts several years ago as a teenager. Apparently, a friend had taken those shots and then posted them on the Internet. Consequently, they were discovered and Miss Nevada was disqualified and the honor given to the next in line. She is realizing firsthand the dangers of actions which happened years ago coupled with the openness of the Web.
The Internet has become a place for free expression but fraught with unexpected consequences for those we express without restraint or forethought. We are in a transitional generation learning with trial by fire (or error) and missteps on what the Internet can do and what dangers it can represent.
Prior to the Internet, our society's private information was very much protected by the lack of technology and by physical barriers. We never had to worry about people seeing our pictures because they just sat in old shoe boxes or albums and nobody could see them except those whom you wanted to. Our personal information was our own; what we did in our bedrooms, closets, and homes never had webcams focused on them or digital phone cams to send to others.
With the emergence of sharing tools in technology and on the Internet, it was now possible to take all that information and put it out there, often times simply because someone asked for it, or because we thought it would be funny....for the moment. Somehow in our naviete we thought that we could put it out there, it would do its thing, making someone laugh, or be just a passing comment on a post or instant message, and then we forgot about it, thinking it be lost in the masses of information on the Web.
The Web sometimes loses things, but most of the time it does not disappear. Search engines make finding things easier. We all get googled now before we meet people just to see what we can learn about them before we meet them. Information is archived on sites because every page a site has means more page loads for ads to be shown on. It doesn't make sense for Web companies to blow old information away. Text gets saved and copied, and re-pasted or quoted somewhere else. Pictures and videos are saved and re-posted. Even if you think your picture is deleted in one place, someone else may have saved it for their own use and it may re-emerge.
So now it's not our own naviete but the responsibility of others both close to you and not. Even if you don't post something, someone else could. Embarassing pictures taken at an office party get posted to your favorite blog; your drunken actions at a frat party re-emerge to make you lose a job offer years later. The news is filled with instances where everyone is getting googled and embarassing information surfaces about that person that pre-Internet would never have been found, like to the detriment of Miss Nevada.
Openness is good and to the extent we can find out more about the people around us is probably positive in the long run. But for us, in the transitional generation, we have not done well enough in teaching our youth or ourselves about the dangers of posting text, pictures, and video on to the Net and the future ramifications of doing so. We need to do better in knowing that we need to think more carefully before we act impetuously in hitting the enter key. And that sometimes, our actions not only affect ourselves but others as well.
My hope is that our educational resources will add materials about the positive and negative aspects of posting to the Internet as soon as possible to their curricula. And for us, who are out there with our school days behind us, I hope that we can just pause a moment before we hit that enter key and think on whether sending that file or post is really the right thing to do, even if it is funny in the moment.