Social Enterprise optimize

A decidedly creepy story of how social media can impact your life

Contributing writer Donovan Colbert knows first-hand how ones social media presence can come back to bite you.

Donovan Colbert is a TechRepublic contributor.

The most surprising part of becoming a content contributor on TechRepublic was realizing how correct were the dire warnings about the impact social media can have on your life. I had a couple previous experiences online with the persistent nature of posts on the internet, but noticed my whole attitude toward online interactions softened once I was in the public eye.

I also developed a sympathy for the abuse that content creators take. It really isn’t fair. Readers have this latitude to tear authors apart, ruthlessly challenging their opinions and credibility, and professional decorum means the writers are best off completely ignoring those attacks. I used to be one of those readers, and I’ve got a feeling some fellow content contributors haven’t forgiven or forgotten that.

Recently I received a particularly scathing evaluation of one of my posts where a reader suggested if I had come to his office with this report he would have been upset at me for wasting his time, would have dismissed my credibility, would have fired me and, finally, would have mocked me on Reddit.

Ouch.

Unlike my peers, I’m not as career conscious about keeping myself in check and being nice to all the readers, so I didn’t exactly turn the other cheek. But anyone who has butted heads with me and read my reply probably understood I pulled my punch.

Here is where things get interesting in a way that illustrates the dangers of social media. I wanted to check the interest on  this post, so I copied the title and plugged it into Twitter’s search function. Among the hits returned was a post that I recognized as this user’s name. In the same way that a potential employer might search for public information about a position candidate, I soon had a wealth of information on this poster. I knew what city he was in, I knew his Facebook page, I knew his title and the company he worked for, and I even knew what he looked like.

The post on TechRepublic was virtually anonymous, because the user profile is very empty (how mysterious). But by linking to his post on TechRepublic through his Twitter account which was linked to Facebook, suddenly I had access to all kinds of public yet personal information about him. Ironically, the discussion surrounded a simple security mistake I had overlooked and how compromising the results of that could be.

I’ve had an interaction on the Internet where I was on the other side of being "background checked" by someone. I had gotten in a conflict with a guy in a community of Retro Game fans, and the guy found an image I had drawn in my early twenties. When I was 23, it didn’t seem that bad, but as a guy in my mid to late 30s, the context made it seem a little disturbing.

I deleted the image from the online gallery where it was, but I’m sure the NSA still has copies stored safely away somewhere. I felt violated and it was creepy, but I learned an important lesson. The things that seem reasonable when you are in your twenties may be taken completely differently when you’re in your forties, and the Internet has a better memory than an elephant. Likewise the things that sound reasonable in the moment might seem regrettable 90 days later when you’re interviewing for a new position you really want.

It's easier to make these recommendations than to actually live them. I’m probably a better (or worse,) example of this than many people. A couple of years ago I had an experience with Digg where I was close to a circle of people that Ole Oleson labeled the “Digg Patriots”. The details aren’t important anymore, but let’s just say Ole and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of issues.

Recently I discovered his posts showing up on my G+ thread. A brighter person would have immediately blocked Mr. Olson, under the premise that nothing positive could come of interacting with someone so ideologically opposed. Not me. I felt compelled to dig up the past, and engage with his readers on posts where I disagree. What good is the internet for if not for exchanging different opinions through hearty debate?

Well, how about "good for turning me into a kid with a stick poking a sleeping bear?" This is a great example of where the course simply isn’t always clear. Is the value in interacting with people who think differently, so that you both might grow? Maybe. But some people want to exist without alternate opinions challenging their perspective. When dealing with people who make a living on opinion, I’ve noticed the former is frequently the case. A lot of people write so you can hear their voice. They’re far less interested in hearing yours. I’m getting better at recognizing this.

All the time we read about people who ruin other people’s careers and their own through what they think are inconsequential posts on social networks. It is time we realize that the way we behave online is not separate from our real lives. They’ve become the same thing. 



About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

14 comments
2000mcse
2000mcse

You write like a chick.. :-) j/k - pokin' the bear!

wtpayne
wtpayne

Our lives are now a patchwork of private and public; A partial (and always outdated) picture of us available to all who seek it. As more and more organisations and individuals seek to make use of that picture, to analyse, and ultimately, to understand us, we need to become more comfortable with our own shortcomings; to develop greater self-awareness. Lots of people will not like what they see; some people will hate and despise us, some people will denigrate us, most people simply will not care.

We also need to come to terms with the fact that people are going to jump to conclusions and be hastily wrong about us, just as we are going to be wrong about most of those that we meet, offline as well as on. Our brave new world is going to require sympathy, understanding and a thick skin in equal measure.

I have never tried to remain a particularly private person, for the simple reason that managing what is private and what is public is too difficult for my brain to handle. I am possibly the worst liar in history, and the amount of information available about me publicly reflects this. To a certain extent, I have tried to make sure that my "professional" face remains prominent, because I owe a certain duty to my family to "keep them out of it", but the separation is never going to be complete, and maintaining a professional level of operational security for personal/family stuff is just an exhausting prospect that I do not have the energy nor the motivation to countenance.

So, can we be honest with ourselves so that we can be honest with other people? Can we expose the less flattering sides of our personality to scrutiny so that embarrassing secrets are downgraded into publicly acknowledged failings? Can we still post comments when we are depressed? Angry? Suicidal? Can we understand that when we see it in other people? Can we absorb online vitriol, under the assumption that the author of the abuse is probably venting stress, upset for another reason, or simply accustomed to speaking without care of consequence. 

Ditching the need to maintain a "perfect" public persona can only be a good thing, I think, because it frees us from the competitive urge to lie both about ourselves and to ourselves. Once we realise that nobody is perfect, and that we all have failings, we can start to be honest enough about ourselves to come to terms with our own inadequacies, and to address them, where and when we wish to.

More pessimistically, this rosy view is confounded and complicated by the fact that learning takes time; that we evolve as people, and that we all go through "bad patches" in our lives; times when anger, or cynicism, or depression take to the fore. The picture that we paint online is not a snapshot taken at any one point in our life; but a blurry, smeared-out summation of all that we have ever been; for better and for worse; from the bitterness expressed mid-divorce, to the despair and sorrow when a parent dies, to the care and tenderness when a child is born. All these things affect who we are, and what we say, deeply and profoundly, even on unrelated issues.

Smash them all together and you get a confused picture; a picture that will become increasingly common; and a picture that we must necessarily become more adept at unpicking.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

I don't think it is interesting that his profile on TechRepublic is barebones.

How many different sites should I fill with my profile? I've been on the internet since before it became the web and have had over 80 different e-mail addresses.

I think that little aside was 1) gratuitous (which I appreciate) and 2) unthinking (I don't appreciate that).

2 questions. 1) how many sites do you have a full profile on? 

2) If it is more than one site, Why?

XoomXoom
XoomXoom

Your example of how you tracked the person down through the link to their Twitter account which led to Facebook and a wealth of information is alarming for sure.  Even though I have never opened any of those type of social media accounts it seems all the online venues now try and get you to login with those accounts and make it even easier to find someone's identity.  We're just now starting to see how dangerous the online and social media can be.  The incidents of online violence to date will pale in comparison to the things that are ahead and most people don't seem to have any filters or understanding of the danger.  

IE. We recently had a woman on SwipSwap(Facebook thing) selling 38C used Victorias Bras.  She and the woman who was buying them met at a JIBox and over the public forum gave complete descriptions of their vehicles, their cell numbers, and time to meet up. The serial killer now had two 38C women that he knew exactly what they were driving, the time and place of their meeting, and their cell.

This happens all the time in just that one venue, and while nothing fortunately happened in that particular circumstance, it is just time until it does.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

A little over 5 years ago, I contributed a GeekEnd column entitled The worst science fiction TV shows http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/geekend/the-worst-science-fiction-tv-shows/. Someone posted it over over to SciFi Signal and then it spread about all over the net.

I received some thoughtful commentary, some trolls, and some truly demented commentary. I am sure everyone that has contributed online has drawn their fair share of the whacked and wacky.

I stopped worrying a long time ago that my online meandering would harm my professional career. I don't write to earn an income and wouldn't accept any manner of payment from a site for contributing. I look on my contributions as a gift to my fellow humans, even if some view it as a gift from large sea birds.

 I speak my mind, try to be polite to those that don't agree with me and let others meander along their way to whatever destination they might end up, be it lake, land of tranquility or place with lots of heat and pitchforks. :)

Cayble
Cayble

Your article is pretty much on the mark.  There are a simply incredible number of  people who want their commentary to be seen as fact as opposed to personal opinion based entirely on personal interests and biases.  And its often those unfair personal biases that get intrusively in the way of rational thinking or the allowance of any opposing opinion. 

People have learned that if someone else has an opinion on something that might be right for themselves and its a different opinion than they have about the issue then you do, it means that  you are not intrinsically or inherently correct if you just have one more opinion out of many. 

People just love to be perfectly correct.  Its like saying "chocolate is the best flavor".  Put that way, its kind of an astonishing revelation that somehow, someone apparently found out that chocolate is simply the best flavor that exists.  Firstly, they will use evidence of others that also feel chocolate is the best flavor to back up their opinion that they are expressing as a plain fact.  There is always someone in a world of 7  billion who think the same thing as you do on a subject so that's easy, usually.  Next they will disentitle you to your opinion.  That can be done in any number of ways from bluntly to dismissively.  Then if its pointed  out to them that they are cracked in their theory and it has flaws and can certainly not simply be a fact as they have stated, they will jump back at you and claim your trying to disentitle them to an opinion.  And the fact may well be your only trying to disentitle them to claiming something is a decided fact when it isn't at all, its just an opinion.

But as I said, people really want to have opinions, but what they want even more is to know they are factually right, even if that isn't true.  As such some rather horrible things get said in the war of online words.  Idiots abound, where they will claim outrageous things that can easily be disproved with a few minutes of internet searching.  Predictions of absolutely ludicrous scope and impact will be predicted by people who clearly don't have  a real clue about what they are talking about; but they like the thought because the prediction backs up their personal opinions.  SO they say it like its a fact.  And they have no fear of being found out to be stupid, after all, its online  and not face to face.

So in the end, while the internet makes for lively discussion, it often makes for over all poor debate.  people feel free to talk like idiots when there is no face to face embarrassment of being found out they are full of made up crap.  people make up wild predictions without a clue, or fear of ever being held accountable for their ludicrous statements.  And lastly, people will state opinions like they are facts because they so badly want to be right and for others to be wrong. 

The internet is hardly the best place for fruitful and helpful debate and discussion amongst strangers.

Rain Howard
Rain Howard

No. I don't do or say anything on line that I would not do or say in person. And I have the integrity and fortitude to stand behind my opinions, regardless of their popularity.

dcolbert
dcolbert

@XoomXoom The thing is, I didn't even mean to. I stumbled across his account, then his Twitter Profile had a link to his Facebook page, and his Facebook page had a link to his employer's Facebook page. It fell like a house of cards. One search was all it took, and not even a search specifically targeting this particular person. 

info
info

@BFilmFan The problem with that today is you could be called into the office of your employer/big client, and have them say to you, "You know, I really liked 'Space:1999', 'Starlost', and 'Logan's Run' as a kid. Although I have no argument with you over 'V' and 'Enterprise', I no longer feel you're a good fit with this organization. Collect your final paycheque from Shirley at the front desk, and good day..."

Kieron Seymour-Howell
Kieron Seymour-Howell

@Cayble Good comment.  Wise and worth reading.


I suggest, if you have not already done so, that you may like reading about psychology and cognitive research.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

I too will say the same thing on-line or to your face. But in defense of all those folks who label anyone who disagrees a troll, in meat space many folks tell me to be nicer. My response is to suggest that they try being smarter.

In meat space, most folks walk away instead of argue. In other words, meat space is kinder but stupider.

dcolbert
dcolbert

@Rain Howard I don't do or say anything on line that I would not do or say in person, and have the integrity and fortitude to stand behind my opinions, as well. 

A prospective employer may not find that a admirable quality. 

And, in the case of challenging a person who is a bigger fish than you in your industry or area of expertise - the potential impact of those interactions could be very damaging to your career viability as well. 

When you challenge someone online who is highly connected in your industry, and feel protected behind the anonymous nature of the Internet - that may not really be the case. In fact, it is unlikely. 99 times out of 100 that person may not care enough to make life tough for you - but one time may be bad enough.  

Kieron Seymour-Howell
Kieron Seymour-Howell

@dcolbert @XoomXoom That I would hardly call "tracking down".  But, it does emphasize the very basic and sensical aspect of never publishing anything that you do not want EVERYONE to read.

Many people are not aware of the legal repercussions of posting online.  The act of creating accounts and then logging in is almost as good as signing your name on a letter.  these will and often are used against people to prove what they stand for and how they think in a legal court.


XoomXoom
XoomXoom

@dcolbert @XoomXoom

Sorry, didn't mean to imply that you went searching for him.....  :-)  All the scarier though that it can interconnect so easily.  Great article, BTW.