Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Internet & Social Networks: A museum of personal mistakes?

I came across this excellent video via the OpinionWatch blog. It's an hour long documentary on reputation management and personal branding in a hyper-connected world. The documentary is in French (hey, a good time to practice those French skills!) and was produced by 13ème Rue, a NBC Universal Global Networks channel.

The first part of the video focuses on the problems the net poses for public figures and celebrities who see their every move captured on video or in pictures and broadcast in near real-time to the whole world. When those moves include off-the-record remarks, revealing personal pictures, and troublesome video, the Net's promise of increased transparency suddenly turns into a grave danger to a person's reputation as illustrated by numerous examples. Any carelessly spoken word or inadvertent gesture has the potential to become a lasting liability. In the case of politicians, video that captures these "personal glitches" becomes a campaign weapon, used and released by enemies at an opportune moment.

Instead of 15 minutes of fame, the Internet now offers 15 minutes of shame to people who have to watch their mistakes broadcast to hundreds if not thousands (or sometimes even millions) of people. The documentary does a nice job showing how our digital footprint creates our personal brand and why this brand may need to be carefully watched and managed. It also introduces a powerful new idea with regards to social networks: that of the "droit à l'oubli" - the right to oblivion, or more specifically, the right to erasure of data. According to the documentary, our current society ignores that right by following people both in space (through videotaping) and in time (through social networks). Our lives are constantly recorded digitally and then shared online where the pictures and video may live on indefinitely. Hence the idea proposed at the end of the documentary: that the Internet has become a museum of human mistakes.

So what to do about all this? The documentary suggests that we need to set boundaries but stops short of offering a viable solution. Are there any?


Laurent said...

Internet Reputation Management is a very interesting topic to debate. In my opinion, the boundaries must be set at first by the individual himself rather than by any authority. People have also to be aware of the risks when chatting about their company on Facebook (here is a concret example : or giving personal details in forum conversations...

Thanks for the link and for animating this interesting course blog ;-)


corinnew said...

Laurent - I agree that individuals need to be careful about how they present themselves online and what they do online. For a lot of digital natives though, the boundaries between private and public life are a lot more fluid than they might be fore you and me. They may not perceive that they are engaging in potentially harmful online behaviors. I think that's why new media literacy skills should be adopted in school curricula from the elementary school level to the university level.