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A tale of two bloggers

Published: September 1, 2006
Section: Opinions


Once upon a time, there was a web designer named Heather Armstrong. Heather kept a blog, where readers enjoyed witty sarcasm and frequent posts about her sub-human coworkers. Then, one day, Heathers boss found her blog, and she was fired. Heathers blog (www.dooce.com) became increasingly famous after she was dooced, which she defines as to lose ones job because of ones blog. Heather went on to gain more than five minutes of fame, became nationally recognized as a blogging icon, is a guest speaker at panels and conferences, and supports herself by advertising on her increasingly popular blog. This is what one might consider a success story.
Dan, however was not so lucky. Dan (not his real name) graduated from a nearby university in 2003. After he graduated, he landed a job at the university. He kept a blog with a very small readership. Like Heather, Dan was tempted to write about his co-workers, especially his incompetent boss. Dans boss found the blog, and Dan was promptly fired. Dan was unemployed for a while, but did eventually find another job. His blog still exists, but with just as small of a readership. Dans story is the more likely of the two.
I tell you these stories because I, too, keep a blog. In fact, many students here at Brandeis maintain active lives on the internet, be it on Facebook, MySpace, Livejournal, Xanga, Flickr, DeviantArt, or a personal blog. Each of these carries a risk, especially as we get ready to leave Brandeis and enter the world of graduate school and employment. These risks need to be recognized as we continue to conduct ourselves online.
Still, there can be benefits to keeping a blog in a professional or academic setting. For example, in academia, a blog can be a useful tool to share ideas and knowledge, and get advice and ideas from others in your field. Still, one has to watch out for plagiarism, always a serious risk of putting ones work online. Similarly, blogs could be helpful in the professional world to share ideas and strategies, and of course, network.
It is very possible, however, that these benefits do not outweigh the risks. Not only could a blog get you fired, it could keep you from getting hired. Though Massachusetts has laws against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation, other states do not. Employers will not ask for this type of information in an interview, but could still deny you employment if they found something they didnt like about you on the internet.
Even silly information, like your intense love of tuna fish sandwiches, can be dangerous since it could keep an employer from taking you seriously. And, it should be obvious by now that writing about your current job, colleagues, or co-workers is a terrible, terrible idea. Even Dooce herself says, BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the internet unless your boss knows and sanctions the fact that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET.
What can we do to protect ourselves? Is it even possible to completely erase our personal lives from the net? Do you have an old, forgotten, blog, or website hanging around from your high school years? How long does it take for a listing to disappear off Google? We all know the dangers of Facebook party photos, incriminating wall posts, and off-beat group memberships. The new addition of Notes provides yet another way to screw yourself over.
Another risk you may not have recognized are the my.Brandeis forums. In order to post in on a my.Brandeis forum, a student has to log in, and the post is automatically entered under his or her real name. And yes, these posts show up on a Google search. Had I known this ahead of time, I would have kept mine much more professional. I appeal to ITS that this be changed, or at least provide us with a way to delete our comments. The current arrangement is making us look bad, and if the students look bad, it cant be good for the university.
So what can you do? First of all, never use your full name on the internet. (Obviously, articles or other publications promoting your career are another story.) Second, Google yourself. See how many embarrassing personal things you can find, and then try your best to delete them all. The problem is that they will stay on Google listings for months. If you start now, you can hopefully erase yourself by spring. And lastly, as you begin to apply to graduate schools and jobs, strip your Facebook profile. Take down your albums, or mark them as private. You may even want to delete your wall. Do not list your interest in hoes in different area codes.
If you blog, never use names – your own, or anyone elses. And although we all hate censorship, you may want to censor yourself to avoid topics that might discourage an employer, or admissions committee, from deeming you worthy. As for myself, I am still unsure as to how I will handle this change. Will I delete my blog all together? Or will I be able to completely anonymize it and wait for Google to forget me? Could my blog take me to Dooce fame, or Dans fate? It remains to be seen, but I am fairly certain that posts about my gynecological health will be the first to go.