Still Think Nobody Cares?

Am I beating a dead horse?  To some, no doubt, but given the importance of the point, and the refusal of so many to acknowledge it or think it applies to them, combined with the ever-increasing pervasiveness of technological means, it’s going to bite us all in the butt soon enough. 

There’s a new contender in the online utterance search to determine what each of us has to say, this time bringing “pre-crime” to the Human Resources Department.

While background checks, which mainly look for a criminal record, and even credit checks have become more common, Social Intelligence is the first company that I’m aware of that systematically trolls social networks for evidence of bad character.

Using automation software that slogs through Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, blogs, and “thousands of other sources,” the company develops a report on the “real you” — not the carefully crafted you in your resume. The service is called Social Intelligence Hiring. The company promises a 48-hour turn-around.

This is the part that so many just can’t seem to grasp.  You want to believe that you’re only responsible for your “official” statements online, while twitting and blogging whatever idiocy you think is fun, cool or, in the case of some indiscriminate folks, trying to manipulate others to think you’re the ginchiest guy on the internet. 

Feigning friendliness to obtain the validation one’s been denied in real life can lead people to do incredibly foolish things, and both the blogosphere and twitter are about nothing if not collecting friends to the weak and pathetic soul.  It’s understandable that people seek faux friendship and affirmation, but at what price?

The reports feature a visual snapshot of what kind of person you are, evaluating you in categories like “Poor Judgment,” “Gangs,” “Drugs and Drug Lingo” and “Demonstrating Potentially Violent Behavior.” The company mines for rich nuggets of raw sewage in the form of racy photos, unguarded commentary about drugs and alcohol and much more.

“Rich nuggets of raw sewage” may be the best description I’ve read of the phenomenon. So much more is learned from the unguarded throw-away comments than the ones carefully crafted to promote the image we want others to see.  How hard is this to understand?

The trend is clear, that bots and algorithms are the wave of the future, finding and using the information tossed about mindlessly online to create an image of us for anyone who cares to look.  As Frank Pasquale notes at Concurring Opinions, there’s no due process component to all this.  People will be using our information, assessing us, without our knowledge.  So many of you respond, “Hah! Who cares. Screw ’em.”  Screw who?  Your adversary, your client, your potential client, your juror? 

To so many who use these techno-tools as a substitute for love, you keep contending that it’s just not serious.  Saying so doesn’t make it so.  It’s never serious, until it is.  It’s never a problem, until it is.  And when it is, you are likely to be unaware of it, since the folks checking up on you won’t be alerting you to their doings, or chatting you up about what they’ve found.  You’ll never know who you’ve hurt, even if it’s yourself, or the damage done.  In the best of worlds, the only person you’ve harmed is yourself, because if you’re selfish enough to mindlessly (or manipulatively) spew rich nuggets of raw sewage, then you’ve caused your own problems.

But to damage others, especially your clients, in the process is inexcusable.  There is never a need to post a funny, cool or impressive twit that trumps the interest of your clients.  This online ego boost is trivial compared with the time in prison another may serve for your playing internet bigshot and gaining a couple of admirers.

Key to understanding this is that you don’t know, YOU DON’T KNOW, what you write that may give up a piece of the puzzle that someone else needs or can use to burn someone.  None of us are capable of the self-assessment necessary to appreciate what bit of information another person needs to form an opinion or determine action.  We cannot see the line not to be crossed that others see, no matter how smart we think we are or how hard we argue to the contrary.

My pal Turk posted a review of the arguments about inappropriate twitting that included a line by Norm Pattis that I had forgotten about, following his decision to become the poster boy for inappropriate client revelations.

Or, to put it another way, beware the asshat masquerading as ethicist.

This line wasn’t written about me, but it could have been. Ignore his reduction of opposing views to an ad hominem, and consider instead that a lawyer of some experience in the courtroom, and little online, insists on his right to expose himself and his clients for the selfishness of online popularity.  Rather than help his collection of baby lawyers to understand their responsibility to their clients, this elevates narcissism over duty and sound judgment.  Even experience falters in the face of online validation, the opium of the twitterers and blawgers in search of a coterie of adoring fans.

The movie MInority Report predicted it, and I’ve already raised it herehere and here, and a few other places as well but it’s not worth the time to find them.  The point is that our online utterances are easily discoverable, and the interest in doing so is sufficient that an industry has been created for this specific purpose.  Even though I’ve heard many poo-poo the notion that anyone cares what they have to say, what they twit, what they blog, you don’t know who is looking, who is reading, who is collecting your unguarded writings. 

Stop spewing rich nuggets of raw sewage.  Your clients won’t think better of you because you weren’t disciplined for it as they sit in the prison cells wondering what went wrong.

It’s my plan to keep beating this horse until the point is made.  Sorry if this bores you.

15 thoughts on “Still Think Nobody Cares?

  1. Keith lee

    Too true. I’m blown away at some ofthe stuff my younger friends and relatives post on Facebook with no restrictions.

    Btw, I emailed this story and another a couple days ago, did you get it? I looked back at it and I sent it to your aol address. Not sure if you check that one often.

  2. SHG

    Damn, I’m sorry Keith.  I meant to give you the H/T for pointing me to the post, and I blew it.  Yes, I received your email, and yes, that’s how I came to read the post.  Thanks, and my apologies for my blowing the recognition.

  3. Keith lee

    Well I am just put out! Off to cry about it on Twitter! Afterwhich, I’ll post my location, and plans for the day. Along with photos of me doing keg stands. That’ll show you.

  4. Justin T.

    Man I hate Twitter. Specifically, what I hate is that people use it like a news feed. Any time any celebrity has anything to say, they put it on Twitter, and then I have to read about how so-and-so tweeted this or that. If I gave a shit what they tweeted, I’d be a follower.

  5. SHG

    Tell me who is forcing you to be on twitter and suffer the indignities of twits you don’t care to read and I will immediately fix his wagon and free you from the yoke of twitter slavery.

  6. Antonin I. Pribetic

    Yes, Scott, I still think nobody cares, but, no, you’re not beating a dead horse. By nobody, I mean nobody whose opinion counts. In this respect, I am a both a solipsist and a rationalist.

    Then again, I’m not looking for social validation, new clients, or a job, or a coterie of sycophants.

    If someone is naive enough to not know that their opponent or client is checking of what they are saying online, then they are fools. The same fools who fall for email phishing scams from Nigerian exiled princes or phantom clients pulling mortgage frauds.

    A while ago, I railed about Twitter selling out privacy rights by unilaterally gifting over its entire archive to the Library of Congress. Did this give anyone pause? I still see so-called lawyers providing updates on their client files or their present locations. “Hey, I just became Mayor of MalpracticeLand on Foursqaure”.

    Should we care what others think about us? Yes and no. We cannot control our online personas, even with reputation management consultants. All it takes is some persistence and a good shovel.

    For those practicing law or considering becoming lawyers, whose egos are either too fragile or their narcissism too unbridled that they require constant positive reinforcement; here’s my advice: Do us all a favor and avoid the courtroom at all costs. Get a laptop, netbook, iPad, Playbook, whatever, and sit at your local Starbucks and pontificate on how the practice of law is undergoing a paradigm shift. For those whose thoughts or opinions are reverse engineered to avoid public criticism, get a ton of followers on Twitter who don’t read your twits or simply regurgitate karmic advice on what Bennett coined as the Happyshere.

    Serendipity in this context is wading through raw sewage and finding rich nuggets.

  7. SHG

    Like you, I’m always torn on the “should we care” issue, since there are different things we care about and different reasons for caring.  If it’s about accumulating followers, fans, sycophants to assuage the fragile ego and obtain the validation one can achieve in real life, that’s one sort.  If it’s about having a conversation that can be simultaneously fun, illuminating, yet never sacrifice the interests of a client, that’s another sort.

    There are plenty of potential interests and concerns.  Some are important, some trivial, some narcissistic and some altruistic. It seems to me that the question isn’t should we care, but what should we care about.

  8. Antonin I. Pribetic

    Marshall McLuhan got it right. The medium is the message. When a French court can find a Google executive guilty of defamation based upon its Google Instant algorithm, then functionalism reigns supreme. What we say must always be more important than how we say it. The keystroke is mightier than the sword. Your “Client First” philosophy is not lost on those who appreciate professionalism, integrity and pedagogy. Too bad the ABA Legal Rebels concept puts the proverbial technology cart before the not-quite-dead-yet horse of ethical lawyering.

  9. Justin T.

    Of course no one is forcing me to read Twitter, and I don’t even have a Twitter account. What I’m talking about is when I read a news article on a supposedly legitimate news site like CNN and I read stuff like “Comedian Jim Norton, longtime friend of insult comic Greg Giraldo, announced today on Twitter that the legendary funnyman has passed away.” This happens all the time. Apparently breaking news is announced on Twitter and then reported as news by the mainstream media. Since when did Twitter become an effective forum for communicating anything besides whether or not you’re taking a dump? If it’s worth saying, it’s worth using more than 140 characters to say it.

  10. SHG

    “Comedian Jim Norton, longtime friend of insult comic Greg Giraldo, announced today on Twitter that the legendary funnyman has passed away.” This happens all the time.

    How many times has Greg Giraldo passed away?  You may be onto something really big.

  11. Justin T.

    Perhaps you’ve spent too much time reading tweets to realize the overall interconnectedness of my messages 😉 Twitter seems to have defeated me.

  12. Katie

    The truth of this matter goes far beyond the activities of just lawyers. Yes, I realize that since this blog has an audience primarily made up of people in the legal profession so this post was generally aimed at them. However, this is something EVERYONE who does ANY ‘happysphere’ posting – twitting, blogging, facing – should be reminded of, no matter how obvious the concept of this should be one of ‘common sense’. Thanks.

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