“Online reputation management is really what we’ve always done in real life on testosterone.” says Kate Carruthers, a Sydney-based digital journalist on Future Tense. Talking about the process of deletion of online content, and the relatively impossibility of removing one’s own digital footprint.
Steven Collins, board member for the lobby group Electronic Frontiers of Australia. Speaking also on Future Tense, he states: “EFA don’t have a position on how you should go about this personally; I talk about the mum test – if you wouldn’t say it or do it or show it in front of your mum, then don’t online.”
In my ‘Publics and Publishing’ class this week, one student responded to my basic outline of the potential trouble your online footprint could cause in the case of (say) one attempting to become a politician. My argument was that privacy enthusiasts aren’t all trying to hide something (it is presumed criminal whenever someone says that, with a vague threat of potential terrorism behind it), but rather want to be able to do what we used to be able to do before the internet: adjust the way people perceive their actions on the fly – learn from their mistakes and be what they are, not what they were.
Of course, a politician who makes a horribly racist or otherwise ignorant comment should be held accountable for it, especially if it were recent, but what about something as simple as a comment which didn’t appear very Prime Ministerial? In his The Daily Show segment entitled ‘You’re Welcome’, John Hodgman does breach the important notion of self-censorship with an eternal digital footprint in mind, however he also points to a recent attempt by US politician and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich to delete a tweet for that very reason: it simply didn’t seem very presidential. It read: “I like Reese’s peanut butter cups because Reese’s is also from Hershey. However Callista got me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg. It is good too.”
Nothing was criminal or prejudiced about the tweet, but legitimate desire to re-shape one’s own identity in the case of preparation for a presidential candidacy should be fine. The student who replied to the horror of an exhaustive digital footprint simply asked: “Who cares? By the time our generation is going for office, we’ll already be a part of a generation who all have heaps of drunken pictures, stupid updates and that sort of thing, not to mention the older people now who have learned to understand it or the generation below us who’ll all be voting as well.”
She made a very good point. Briefly reflecting on it, I personally wouldn’t ever judge even a Prime Ministerial candidate for an indiscretion which appeared online, depending on what it was. If a racist, sexist or homophobic person is outed online who is running for office, I’m pleased to have the information and will use it based on how much time has past, whether or not the person has publicly repented and whether or not they attempted to cower from their problem. If images surfaced of Julia Gillard drunk at a house party as a teenager, I’d judge more harshly the opposition attempting to use them for political gain that I ever would Julia herself.
Funnell, A 2011 ‘Online Reputation Management’, Future Tense <http://www.abc.net.au/cgi-bin/common/player_launch.pl > retrieved 16 May 2011
Hodgman, J 2011 ‘You’re Welcome – Internet History’, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart <http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-march-30-2011/you-re-welcome—internet-history>, retrieved 16 May 2011
Unknown, May 15, 2011, personal correspondence, University of New South Wales tutorial ‘ARTS2090 – Publics and Publishing’