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 here, here 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.