Ten years ago, a movie called The Truman Show explored what would happen if a person who had unknowingly been filmed their entire life for a television show suddenly discovered that every part of their life was public.
At that time, that was a radical concept. Reality shows were just getting popular. Jon and Kate had just gotten married and were probably dreaming of having 2.4 kids and a peaceful, private life. Facebook didn’t even exist.
So it was entertaining to watch a fictional character discover that every mistake he’d ever made, every stupid thing he’d ever said, had been broadcast to the world.
But today we’re living the Truman Show
It is now possible that private moments of your life can be broadcast to the world. (Or at least found on Google.) Especially when we’re not careful about what we put online.
A couple years ago, students and recent graduates were shocked that employers and college officials were searching through their profiles for incriminating information. Athletes were kicked off sports teams for underaged drinking, or consuming alcohol (or other substances) that they weren’t allowed to have at that point in their season. Young job applicants were losing coveted positions because they prominently displayed photos of them behaving badly on Facebook or unwisely wrote immature things in their profiles.
Luckily, those stories seemed to have died down. Some people still don’t make the connection that everything they say publicly online is in the public record–there are still some Twitter horror stories emerging–but most people who use the Internet for networking and business seem to have got the picture. Even Facebook has drastically increased their privacy controls, so members can determine which of their friends can see which parts of their account.
Privacy isn’t assured
Except, even if you’re taking precautions, your privacy isn’t assured. A high school cheerleading coach in Mississippi forced cheerleaders to reveal the passwords to their Facebook account–and then shared a student’s private messages with school officials. A grumpy co-worker or an annoyed friend could easily share access to your private profile and pictures with people you haven’t approved. And it only takes one angry ex with your Facebook password to wreck havoc with your personal information and connections.
Luckily, though those situations are possible, they’re rare. Most people don’t deliberately set-out to share the private information of others.
The real biggest personal branding threat on the internet is what we put up ourselves when we’re not aware that what we do is public.
Recently, when I wrote about a personal branding fiasco where (among other mistakes) the subject of my post wrote insensitive comments about his wife on a blog, one commentator took a stand that the person I was writing about had a right to write whatever they wanted online under their full name. And that commentator was right that it’s a person’s choice about what they want to be associated with their personal brand online.
Except the person I’d written about hadn’t realized that using his full name when he wrote a comment–would put that comment front and center in a Google blog search. He was pretty humiliated when he realized that a careless comment would be findable as part of his brand.
I’ve seen that happen with others as well. A relative (also in a job search) wrote a very opinionated comment for his political views as a comment on the Minneapolis Star Tribune (our local newspaper) website. There was nothing wrong with having an opinion or expressing it. But he’s right in the midst of a tough job search and doesn’t have much of an online presence. So his vehement political views scream out from the front page of Google–a potentially embarrassing situation. Although politics shouldn’t be taken into account during a job search, an employer might be influenced in their hiring decision by their stereotypes about a person’s politics.
Been there, done that
Of course, I’ve made the same mistake myself. It’s easy to dash off a comment or a blog post, sign your name and not even consider that it might go on your permanent record. Only to realize later–when a Google Alert arrives–that people can actually see that comment when they search for my name! (Whoops!)
Obviously, we all have a right to put whatever we want up online under our own names. But it’s still important to realize that–like in Truman’s world–the cameras are always filming. Nothing is truly private.
Katie Konrath writes about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped!” at www.getFreshMinds.com.