Information Persistence 2 – 'Internet Herpes'

Explaining to others (especially those under 20) the consequences of Information Persistence, that what we post on the Internet will remain accessible, searchable and visible forever begs for some analogies to the “old” world, so I’ll continue my Sex Ed theme and claim that:

Posting on the Internet can be a fantastic tool for information sharing, but do it wrong, or with the wrong information, and you’ll have “Internet Herpes” for a long, long time.

I’m not talking about anything physical.  At least that can be diagnosed and treated.  Instead, Internet Herpes is posting what may seem like innocent stuff, at the time – risque photos from a wild party, exploits about friends, disparaging words about an employer, etc. which later come back to haunt you — and although you might mitigate the worst effects, it will never go away.

Even BusinessWeek is picking up on this trend, with their article dated March 27, “You Are What You Post,” describing examples of grown-up professionals having to deal with the consequences of young wild times publicly documented.

Like Herpes, it only takes one action, or the action of a friend, to reveal personal information about you that may be impossible to fix.  The genie is out of the bottle.

It’s difficult, and certainly inconvenient, to remove undesirable information about yourself – you might try deleting your MySpace entry, cancelling your account, asking Google to not index web pages that you control, etc.  You can also proactively establish your information, as in creating a blog like this, or by establishing your identity on LinkedIn (see my example). 

But how to remove information from websites you don’t control?  Sue them for slander?  Even if they remove information about you, it will already have been cached and duplicated hundreds of times, especially if it is anything juicy.  Your MySpace entry, and the pictures it contains, will continue to exist.

So we must practice prevention and awareness — acknowledge that there are behaviors on the Internet which are risky.  Understand that while the risky behaviors may be fun (in the short term), the consequences may last.  Fortunately, as in the physical world, the stigma of the consequences will decline…  Probably about the time our youngsters will start running for President.

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