Monday, January 03, 2011

The Land of Watch-what-you-say

Another thing that has contributed to the end of the Golden Age of Blogging was the discovery by the general public of this thing called "blogging."

When I first got involved with blogging it seemed that most people had no idea what blogging was, if they had even heard of it at all.  Some people I talked to thought it had something to do with porn.*   Others assumed that all blogs were political blogs.  Few had actually read or even seen a blog, and most could not comprehend why anyone would want to waste their time with such a stupid and pointless endeavor.

And in a way that was good.  The Blogosphere was the Wild West back then, described by one friend and blogger as "the ultimate meritocracy."  You were writing what you wanted, posting what you wanted, trying to attract the readers you wanted.

And then we were introduced to a new word:  "Dooced."

The incident in which the blogger known as "Dooce" was fired from her job for posting images of herself in and around her workplace on her blog actually happened in 2002.  I don't think I heard about it until a few years later, probably after I started my own blog in 2004.  It made some things very clear to most bloggers:  Guard your anonymity.  Don't blog about work.  Don't blog about anything you wouldn't want to become known to your family, friends, co-workers, or employers if your anonymity is compromised.

And, of course:  Anonymity is an illusion.

Later we learned this:  After your anonymity is compromised, any statement you have ever made can and will be held against you.  From the Wikipedia article on Amanda Marcotte:
On January 30, 2007, the John Edwards 2008 presidential campaign hired Marcotte to act as the campaign's blogmaster. Soon afterward, many bloggers began to quote Marcotte's blog, especially posts in which she attacked the Catholic Church's position on birth control and access to abortion. Columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote, "Her hostility to religion and in particular the Catholic Church should alarm Edwards." Journalist Terry Moran wrote, on an ABC News blog, "her comments about other people's faiths could well be construed as hate speech."

Marcotte's most outspoken critic was Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who publicly demanded that the Edwards campaign terminate Marcotte's appointment, claiming that she was anti-Catholic. An Edwards campaign press release on Thursday, February 8, 2007 stated that while Edwards was "personally offended" by some of what Marcotte wrote, her job as the campaign blogmaster was secure.

On February 12, 2007, the Catholic League denounced Marcotte's review of the film Children of Men as "anti-Christian". Later that day, Marcotte announced that she had resigned from the Edwards campaign, and accused Donohue of a sexist perspective in the calls for her resignation. The campaign accepted her resignation. She returned to her work on other blogs.
Some bloggers took great delight at this situation, while at the same time engaging in a practice of "memory hole" redaction, freely editing and revising posts on their blogs in order to hide embarrassing or controversial statements made in the past.  But nothing is ever gone forever from the Internet.  At best you can hope for any records of statements you wished you had never made to be buried beneath the unending digital precipitation that falls on everything that has come before.

You don't have to have highly skilled and motivated ideological enemies or workplace snitches to threaten your current or future employment.  Now employers routinely check Facebook and do online searches to look for incriminating information about prospective employees.  Has the applicant ever expressed religious, political, or other opinions which the employer (or any of the employer's clients, current or potential) finds objectionable?  Rejected.  Has the applicant ever expressed any opinion at all, anywhere, on any topic?  Red flag.  If your future boss is secretly (or not-so-secretly) a Young-Earth / Climate Change Denier / Birther and/or Truther who thinks Rush Limbaugh is the Way and the Truth and the Life, and hydraulic fracturing is a wonderful and perfectly safe way to extract natural gas from underground shale layers...well, you probably don't want to be working for someone like that if you don't embrace all of those positions anyway.  But if you were publicly outspoken in your opposition to a powerful politician who subsequently won the election?  You might want to look for employment where political patronage plays no role - otherwise you may be seen as a serious liability.

Sometimes I wonder if this is what is behind some of the blog deletions and lockdowns I have seen.  People seeking to disassociate themselves from statements made on their blogs, or trying to avoid personal complications or employment jeopardy. 

Once upon a time blogs were weird, out there, something known only to a few.  Then they became popular, for a time.  Now they are passe.  But society has evolved.  In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the Wild West era is over.  Google makes it easy for anyone to research anyone.  Any information that you dared to put out there can and will be found and used against you, if anyone so chooses.  If you're a blogger, watch what you say.

Unless, of course, you've already said it.

*Maybe they thought I was some sort of camgirl in my spare time.

TITLE REFERENCE:  The Land of Do-as-you-please, from the 1943 British children's book The Magic Faraway TreeI only know of it because of its mention in the graphic novel V for Vendetta.

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