Mar 10, 2011

Charlie Sheen Reminds Us, The Internet Has a Memory

Like millions of other people around the world, I’ve been watching Charlie Sheen’s rants and explosions with rapt attention.  I find myself thinking less about Mr. Sheen’s extreme words and actions, and thinking, instead, more about the built in dilemma of publishing them on the Internet. Even if Sheen wanted to take back every word of it, and managed to apologize enough to dilute the memory of the public, nothing ever defeats the memory of the Internet.

Interestingly, intertwined with the rise of popularity of social media is the fact that as more of us work to create a public face, the more important it becomes to manage our privacy.  We need to be careful with not only our business or banking, but also with our personal privacy.  Information, pictures, pieces of writing, comments, concerns, and anything that we post on the Internet can do far more harm than we’d like to think. By our own conduct, we build a permanent record, be it in a virtual form, of everything we do online.  And most of it, unless we are careful, is available to the public at large. That means that recruiters, employers, friends, enemies, and criminals can access our lives, whether we want them to or not.

According to Career Builder 45% of employers are “screening” social networking sites when hiring new recruits.  Over 80% of college recruiters asked in a Kaplan Test Prep survey suggest that social media will play at least some role in future recruitment.  For people who tend to be over-sharers in their social media worlds, these trends can prove to be disastrous.  Prospective students and employees might be denied employment or admission; or, in other cases, they can be removed from their posts or institutions. Not even Charlie Sheen is immune to this effect; he was fired on Monday.

Even when we think that posts are temporary, they really aren’t – just ask Gloria Huang.  Huang accidentally signed in to the Red Cross Twitter feed (to which she has access given her position with the organization) and Tweeted about getting beer and getting drunk.  The Tweet was deleted after about an hour, but there were innumerable screenshots made of and stories published about the “rogue” tweet.  Thankfully for the Red Cross, they were able to pull something redeemable from the incident, but it does highlight the point that nothing is temporary on the Internet.

When it comes to the way I look at my own online presence, I like to think of it more like my reputation. If I wouldn’t show a picture to a meeting of my fellows at work, I won’t put it online. For kids, or parents thinking about their children’s online reputation, try thinking of your social media profiles as “grandmother approved.” In general, keeping our profiles private, be they on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc, is a really good idea.  In a day when we can Tweet from a smartphone and post to Facebook from an iPhone, keep a simple rule of thumb in the forefront of your mind at all times – do you want to see it in the front page of the New York Times sitting in your grandmother’s house?  If not, keep it to yourself.

Really, the more we know about the memory of the Internet, the more we should think before we post our lives online.

Mar 8, 2011

“TRUST” and Our Call to Action

I recently wrote about “TRUST”, an upcoming movie that tells the story of 14 year-old Annie from a wonderful family who falls victim to an Internet predator and how true to life the movie is.  At the end, we are left with a lingering feeling of how to make sure this doesn’t happen to me or anyone I know.  As parents, we get protective and angry all the while feeling helpless.

There is, in fact, a call to action that arises out of “TRUST”.

As parents we spend countless hours talking to our kids about safety, stranger danger, avoiding danger, and staying away from strangers.   Built into all of these messages and lessons is actually a core concept – we are teaching our kids to build relationships with people they trust and not to go near those they don’t.

We’ve done a tremendous job of teaching how to trust in the real world.  And therein lies our call to action in the digital century.

Even though the online world has become a living thing that mirrors and reflects our physical world realities, our teachings have only just begun to bring those physical world lessons online.  Unfortunately, the online world doesn’t give us the opportunity to look into a stranger’s eyes and decide whether we trust them.  As adults and children, we often will be more trusting online than we will be offline.

So, here is our opportunity.  Take whatever happens online and put it in the real world and ask yourself questions you already ask everyday when interacting with new acquaintances –

–    How does what they did make me feel?
–    How does what they said (typed) make me feel?
–    Should I believe them the next time they lie?
–    Should I like them less now that they have lied to me?
–    Should I give them another chance to re-gain my confidence in them?
–    What if they do it again?
–    Can I trust them?

Take the time to see “TRUST” when it comes out in April and talk to your kids about trust online.  You’ve already done a great job in the real world, keep the dialogue going.

Mar 7, 2011

Killing the American Internet with Forced Voluntary Cooperation

When President Mubarak departed, Egypt’s Internet whirled back to life to the applause of millions around the world.  While this is an obvious triumph, the fact that it was shut down at all has caused a sense of alarm around the world, especially in America.  Can that happen here? Can we all be cut off from the Internet?

The short answer is ‘no’ and ‘yes’.

Why ‘no’?  Even though the American government does exercise some regulations over the Internet, it does not own the Internet or any means by which people get to the Internet.  And, under existing law, our government doesn’t have the right to turn it off as much as there is an effort to gain that right through newly introduced legislation.  But let’s assume our government did have the right, it actually doesn’t have the technical ability.  Our Internet is immense: thousands of providers, millions of miles of cables, countless portals.  There is no single “hub” someone can go to in order to flip the switch into the off position.

So then, why ‘yes’?  Our government can engage in what I call “forced voluntary cooperation.”  While there are no kill the Internet laws on the books yet giving our government total control over or ownership of our Internet, the government certainly has ways to “persuade” providers and carriers to shut off access “on their own.”  Simply put, voluntarily do what I say or the ramifications will be so drastic you will regret it.  That said, keep in mind that if our government has come to a point where it is engaging in forced voluntary cooperation, then as a nation-state we are no doubt facing the gravest threat to our safety and security.  As a citizens first and businesses second, it behooves all of us to voluntarily cooperate, forced or not.  We as Americans would want to stand together and stand behind our government to protect our country and our fellow Americans.

There would be tremendous side-effects, however.  The cost to shut down the American web would be severely high, not to mention the billions in lost revenue for businesses at home and abroad. Our Internet is, unlike China’s, is a truly international system, feeding and being fed by innumerable places all over the world.

Countries that have pre-built limitations into the foundations of their Internet have power over their citizens that Americans would not want our government to have – the power to unilaterally control freedom of speech.   Countries such as Iran and China have restrictive laws and filters in place already — imagine Net Nanny on steroids working for an entire country.  Bahrain making news with protests, is suspected of restricting site access as well. International content is intensely censored or, in some cases, not allowed all together.  In China, searches for information on Tibetan independence are completely blocked.  In Iran and Egypt, there are fewer than a dozen portals allowing information in.  Carriers number in the dozens, not the thousands, some of which are state owned.  Shutting down an operation that is mostly state owned and closed circuit is a much less daunting task than killing an Internet built on the fundamental notions of freedom.

So, rest assured fellow browsers, the likelihood that we’ll ever see our government kill the Internet is basically non-existent.