If you’re alive and well in the 21st century, chances are you’ve “Googled” yourself. We all have our reasons – curiosity, narcissism, but mostly just because we’re aware that at some point, other people are going to do it, too. Before applying for a job or even going on a first date, it’s not a bad idea to know what there is about you online.
For the lucky ones, everything that comes up will be flattering, or at least just sparse/uninteresting/only vaguely accurate enough to leave an impression. For others, however, the results can be pretty disastrous.
My ex-boyfriend “B” was an ambitious young man, recent Ivy League graduate, and the perfect example of when Internet results go awry. A few days after our first date, we were flirting over the phone when I jokingly remarked that I planned to Google him.
“If you do that, there’s something I should tell you,” he said solemnly. Images of arrest records and porn careers flitted through my mind as I reached for the keyboard and warily typed in his first and last name.
Lo and behold, the results were in the hundreds, and mostly seemed to consist of personal attacks and diatribes on the same topic: Politics. More specifically, about “B” as an obnoxious Republican. Now, this was confusing to me, because I knew from conversation that he was categorically Libertarian. On our first date I’d even noted that he kept multiple Ron Paul bumper stickers on his car.
“…So wait, you’re a hardcore Republican?” I had to ask, confused by the hateful postings in his name.
Turns out that years prior, “B” was President of the student Republicans at his university, but it was really only part of a social “prank.” He and a few fraternity brothers didn’t like the guy who was running (unopposed) for the position, and so launched their own campaign to take his place. Unexpectedly, “B” won.
But, this wasn’t why he had so much internet fame. The fame came after he was quoted in an inflammatory article in the university’s student newspaper. “B” described a situation that basically sounded like an ambush — a reporter came unannounced and uninvited to one of their events, and “B” was about 6 or so beers deep (remember, this was college) and rambling with someone he thought was just another girl at the bar. He didn’t know it was a reporter until about a week later when the article came out.
“The quote was stupid and completely out of context,” he said, not angry so much as fatigued. Understandably – it was a single, wholly irrelevant line from 5 years ago, yet it was the first thing that came up about him. Other articles and websites also used the quote to depict him (and by proxy, other Republicans) as an arrogant a-hole. I suspect the attention came in part because it was an Ivy school and “B” was the group’s president, but it could have happened to anyone.
We teach our children the game “Telephone,” where one person says a statement and it goes down a line of multiple others, until the last person vocalizes what they’ve heard. The lesson learned is usually that repeated information changes and loses it’s original substance.
Well, the Internet is clearly the largest game of telephone ever played. One line, after post and re-post, may come out nothing like the original content, or turn a minor issue into a 15 million view monster that will forever leave you as “that guy.”
But… what can we do?
When false or skewed information is posted about us online, it’s difficult to know how to handle it. Do we ignore such inaccuracies, even knowing they are misleading, or spend copious amounts of time refuting them like whack-a-mole for our online lives? My ex was in the first wave of college graduates forced to deal with this problem, and while he was fortunate enough to find a job through personal connections, the future for him and others may not be so fortuitous.
Even if we decide not to participate, and try to stay above the fray of “Googling” a job candidate or first date, we can’t be assured that others will return the courtesy. Rather than the resumes and select references we once used to represent our professional selves, today much of what employers and co-workers encounter is highly personal. In fact, I suspect that soon our actual resumes will contain a section, “Is there anything you’d like to explain about your Google search results/Facebook page/etc?”
This is one of many instances where instead of pushing us forward, all the “innovation” has resulted in an inescapable wallowing in the past.