The social Web, reputations & an election

By Anne Collier

Five years ago was, I think, was the first time I wrote about young Net users needing to be good spin doctors and get in touch with their inner political consultants. I was thinking more about protecting reputations and future prospects than opportunities to run for office. But now we’ve had the first election in which politicians have had to confront the social-Web skeletons in their closets, the New York Times pointed out yesterday. “Who knew it would happen so quickly?” If you have a child running for class president or considering a political career, have him or her read this article, which aggregates a number of cases of politicians’ Web-based indiscretions gone very public. The Times writes suggest we’re in a transition time, with 20-something future leaders having come from a time when hardly anybody thought about what social-media research danah boyd calls “invisible publics” and before we’re all inured to seeing people’s party behavior turned into public indiscretions – inured due to sheer volume. “Still, it seems certain that, right now, the aspiring leaders of the United States are busy scrubbing their Facebook profiles of incriminating evidence, looking at those who have learned the hard way,” according to this article. Its writers don’t believe it’ll get easier for politicians as the social Web matures. They end with the view of Prof. Daniel J. Solove, author of The Future of Reputation, that human nature isn’t that forgiving. Do you agree? I’m not sure. I do think we have a lot of work to do in new-media literacy and citizenship, but I also think kids have already gotten smarter about all this than some of these young politicians were in 2006.

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