This is a rebuttal to my friend Peat’s recent blog, here:Peat dot org
There is a very fine line in making the Internet, and more importantly, social networking, into a feasible and usable product, and turning it into a minefield where it’s only a hollow image of what a social networking site really is usually intended to be.
As Peat states about fucking up on the Internet and about boss’s surfing up “images” of you and laying you off…well, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. That’s one case, but when a person can be financially destroyed simply because they used a service in a manner that it was essentially intended to be used, that’s a problem. Arguing against that is like saying that a person who bought and drove a Pinto, only to have it explode in an unexpected way and leave them burned to a crisp is all their fault because they bought a Pinto and should have known something that the car manufacturer elected not to tell them.
While it may be common sense to a geek that you should be careful what you put on the Internet, the fact is, people use the Internet in ways that don’t always jive with what their employers want. And I’d rather people use the Internet to its fullest and use it as a vehicle for honesty, rather than people becoming sickened with putting up an unenjoyable front all the time and generally losing interest in its value over time. People want to have fun with this, not kiss their boss’s butt. I make my living with computers, and when people burn out on using them because they don’t let those people really achieve what they want, I get hurt. That’s a very simple way to put it, but it’s more than that. It’s a matter of Rule of Law.
See, employers can cut you for any reason they choose, and most people know it. Especially in a down economy. Especially when they know there are people out there lined up for a job and many are desperate. Desperate to even take a smaller paycheck and work longer hours, and employers are always looking for ways to put more money back in their own pockets. This is just how the market works.
You can get dinged for even what would be considered a minor faux pas. Even if it isn’t a faux pas at all. You can get dinged just for using social networking in the manner it was intended. You’re out for drinks one night, and you tweet or update your Facebook that you’re out at a bar. This is a very normal thing you’d do with social networking, and you’d think “no big deal”…right?
Well, not so fast. There’s very little that protects an employee from the wrath of a supervisor (or colleagues) who decide they want the job or salary that you’ve got (or want someone else doing it) and are willing to play a little politics to get around labor/employment laws. Building up a case to get someone kicked out can be easier than you think…it just really involves establishing a reputation in an office and just enough evidence to insinuate that it’s true. I’ve known very good engineers over the years who’ve been outed simply because their co-workers or supervisors had a disagreement about something that ended up in certain parties creating a bad reputation for the one they wanted out. You’d be surprised how often this really happens…I’ve stayed a contractor for years because when I see this happen on a team, I generally look for work elsewhere because I know I’m being put in a position where I wouldn’t be able to reason with others and do my job right without putting my job in jeopardy.
The point of social networks isn’t to constantly update about how much you love your job, or what technology you think is wicked cool ALL THE TIME simply because you know your coworkers and bosses read your page and form opinions on you. That they want you to be and think a certain way and have a certain image or they don’t think you’re a “good fit” for the team.
Social networking is about facilitating actual, real, social situations. Like meetups, or hanging out, or movies, or yes, social drinking. Even if it’s just letting your friends know what you’re up to or maintaining your social image. Sure, there are probably a few people out there willing to maintain multiple accounts…to use an alias to hide behind for one while maintaining a facade for others, or to just live in that facade and cope…but that really defeats what a social networking service should be. But then again, that’s an example of a user creating their own privacy control on their own by maintaining multiple accounts, so one could just say that they’re working around a shortcoming in the service itself.
Anyway, the point here is that as an individual, you should have the right to at least, on a superficial “browsing” level, control access to any elements you regard as private and prevent them from being used on the Internet in a way that could jeopardize your situation. If an employer requests data or attempts to hack around to get at information, either they’re committing a crime that can be grounds for a civil suit, or they get away with it (say, they use someone else’s profile who is in your network to get at your information) and there’s little you can do about THAT. But you should be able to protect yourself from showing up to work and being handed a pink slip by some HR person you’ve never met because your boss felt like you weren’t giving your all because you had been out drinking on a work night. You give them 8+ hours a day of your life, and if they make an assumption that you aren’t giving it your best effort simply because of something you do on your own time, that’s outside the scope of what they can use to fire you and you should be able to defend yourself.
This is why social networking sites that are SUCCESSFUL have a means of allowing a user or site owner a means to ensure privacy for themselves and their group. If you choose to open yourself up to whatever, that’s your problem if you get dinged. That’s the same as showing up to work and calling your boss a shithead in front of everyone and telling them that you aren’t going to do anything but read web cartoons all day. But if you do that privately while you’re at lunch with a friend who doesn’t work there, unless your friend rats you out, if your boss is sitting at another table and you’re unaware of that fact that he’s overhearing your conversation, they don’t have any grounds to just fire you right there. That’s thought police territory, and if you stick up for that, you’re kind of a scumbag. I’ve been a supervisor multiple times, and I’d never even consider firing someone for even insulting me to my face.
Anyway, that’s my take on it. If a person has access to control access to their information, and has the right to completely wipe out their information from a service if they feel their information has been used in a way they don’t agree with, I say that’s what a user should expect. If you don’t have either option, I’m not saying your service should be sued, I’m saying that your service sucks and I’ll tell anyone who asks about it just that.
It’s unfortunate that people paint a picture of others simply by a collection of random thoughts on the Internet, even if they work with that person every day and talk to them and know how they really are. But people do this. It shows how immature most people still are in regards to the Internet and communication through this medium that they can judge a person based on a collection of loose thoughts rather than on the whole. But as a person trying to pay your bills, feed your dog, and make a life and career for yourself, this whole thing can really hurt you badly and you should be provided the means to defend yourself from that. It falls back to the very meaning of Rule of Law, protection of the weak from the strong (or one from many). You should be able to protect your own financial future from someone who unfairly twists words against you and twists your own ideas into libel against you. We have laws that protect people from this, and this whole privacy issue falls under those laws.
I guess I would rather see the Internet be used in an open, fun, and honest manner…and all those things kind of rely on each other for them all to exist. People are happy when they feel they can put an idea out there that makes them laugh, or makes their friends laugh, or is how they really feel at that point in time. People aren’t really happy when they feel like they have to do something out of fear. When people aren’t happy, they don’t use something. When they don’t use something, I have a harder time finding work. There you go.