This week I received an e-mail from the student government telling me that someone had contacted them, wanting me to remove something from my blog.
I was curious and a little nervous at first, and then vaguely annoyed when I found out what it was all about: someone wanted me to remove a comment because of (in this person’s own words) "a pathetic attempt to remove myself from the internet." There was nothing incriminating in the comment – the only thing a reader would find out about the commentor was that he/she liked my blog without knowing me personally.
Although this incident was really minor, I suppose it does set a precedent for how I should handle this kind of stuff in the future. And I must admit that my gut feeling was annoyance. Commenting a blog is like talking to the blogger in real life. Once you’ve said something to someone, you can’t really unsay it. You can tell them to stop telling other people that you said it, which I guess is what this person did to me. You can insist on getting credit for your brilliant thoughts. But if you regret having said something in real life, then, well, that’s life.
I feel like I’m constantly telling people this to no avail, but (drum roll) the internet is just like real life. Facebook doesn’t change who your friends are, cruelty is still cruelty, and once you’ve said something, it’s out there. Both literally, because of internet tools like Bloglines and web.archive.org (see comments to this post), but also in peoples’ minds. Once someone knows that you went to that party, or that you agree with that political blogger, no amount of de-tagging or comment-deleting will save you.
The obvious solution is to think before you act. I’ve discussed this with friends who claim that there is a difference between how you are expected to act in private and how you are expected to act in public, and that no one has the right to force anyone else to mix the two. This is sort of true. I agree that no one has the right to upload drunken photos of you, but I still believe that the easiest solution to this problem is to avoid passing out in your own vomit when there are cameras in the room. That, and only getting drunk with people you actually trust. And if you think about it, in the good old days before the internet, people still managed to know all the weekend gossip by lunch on Monday anyway. People in China didn’t find out, but did you really care what people in China knew about your drunkenness? And do you really care now?
And all this whining about potential employers googling you? What are people really afraid of? I can just picture it: "You know, this woman has an excellent education, interesting work experience and great recomendations, but she used to write comments on a fashion blog, so she’s clearly not serious enough for this company." or "I hear that when this man was in his early twenties, he used to go out with his college friends and (gasp!) drink beer! We couldn’t possibly hire someone like that." Or maybe: "I know she’s really qualified for the job, and she’s beautiful too by the way, but in this one photo I found on Facebook, she was having a really bad hair day."
However, if you insist, I guess I’ll humor you. I have now removed the person’s name, e-mail and website from this site.