Every Stupid Thing You Ever Do Will Wind up on the Internet

December 5th, 2008

Until I saw the recent story about a New England Patriots cheerleader fired over pictures posted on Facebook I wasn’t aware of people actually losing their jobs over things posted on the internet.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

In the past week I have seen stories about a woman disqualified from an education degree program because of a photo she posted of her teacher-mentor (though it sounds like that may have been the last of many problems), an entire Virgin Atlantic flight crew fired for posting on Virgin’s Facebook group page that planes were full of cockroaches and passengers were white trash (or the English equivalent) and incoming White House speechwriting candidate Jon Favreau embarrassed by a photo of himself groping a lifesize cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton.

The latter article points out that the Obama administration’s screening process includes questions about applicants’ social network profiles, copies of all writings, including blogs or comments on blogs, or sent emails, text messages or IMs that could be a source of embarrassment to the applicant or the administration.

The purpose is clearly to bring out as many skeletons as possible, but the scope of the questions points out the futility.  Drunken camera phone photos will emerge, and in another 20 years they may be pictures of candidates themselves rather than lower-level job applicants.

What I find most interesting is the comments on the education degree article cited above.  A number of readers seem to feel that people should be free to post whatever they like without impact to their professional lives.  I don’t agree- the things a person chooses to post publicly speaks to his/her judgment.  At the same time, context is everything.  Everyone does stupid things from time to time and people shouldn’t be judged solely on them.

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