This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.
Every so often, I remember something embarrassing I did as a teenager and feel such intense shame that I am slightly more welcoming to the idea of being struck by lightning. Or a nuclear warhead.
How lucky I am that nearly all of the message boards and social networking I did in high school has since been consigned to the annals of internet history. To that end, I feel just a touch of sympathy (though not much) for the teenagers of the last decade, who aren’t going to have their Facebook and Twitter exploits fade any time soon.
Indeed, Paris Brown, the 17-year-old adviser to the Kent police commissioner had her career grind to a screeching halt, because she forgot (and her detractors chose to not forgive) that teenagers will say some impressively stupid things when left to their own devices.
The racist and homophobic tweets that were plastered all over newspapers last week apparently were dredged from years ago, and Ms Brown had probably forgotten all about them.
That’s not to say that they aren’t awful (my goodness, I never realised casual racism could sound so inane) but it’s a useful parable for all of us. If someone doesn’t like you, it’s the easiest thing for them to put your name into Google and browse through the various terrible thoughts you’ve had.
For most it will be incredibly boring things, but to potential employers who need to whittle down applicants – or dissenters looking to do a little character assassination – they’ll take any excuse.
Even if you’re already comfortably set in a job, you’re not safe. Here’s a story from last year that struck a chord with me personally.
Lauren Wainwright is a games journalist who was called out in October last year over something she had posted on Twitter. She expressed a lot of excitement for the newest Tomb Raider game (which is actually released now). However, it was picked up that Ms Wainwright had worked for the publishers for Tomb Raider in the past – it said as much on her LinkedIn profile.
This lead to suspicion over whether the opinions she was expressing were actually genuine. Articles were written, fingers were pointed, and other journalists were threatened with Libel. Members of the public, looking for journalists (not to mention a woman) to vilify, took to threatening Wainwright personally. It was a huge mess.
I was lucky enough to meet her in person, and was told that her excitement for Tomb Raider was, perhaps obviously, entirely genuine and unrelated to her previous employers.
While I feel there could have been a little more attention paid to what people could infer from the tweets of professional figures, it would be wholly unfair to blame Ms Wainwright for what had happened to her.
The lesson to be learned here is that we could all do with taking a step back and looking at just what we’re posting in public spaces, and how it could affect us professionally.
The simplest solution is to isolate anything that could reflect badly on you to somewhere more private. Either by limiting viewer access, or better yet using a pseudonym. Many people run two Twitter accounts – one for professional discourse, and one for general purpose. The people it will matter to will still know it’s you, but Google won’t.
Speaking of which, it may do you well to search your own name. Especially if you have a distinctive one (like me, I guess). If you had a Myspace in the distant past, now would be a good time to shut it down.
On a closing note, if you have a free afternoon, I strongly recommend you check out dont take it personally, babe, it just aint your story – a visual novel written by Christine Love. The name is ridiculous, but it explores the themes of a future where accessing the messages and profiles of someone online is commonplace. Would your judgements of people be clouded by things you’re not meant to know? See for yourself.