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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bloggers Beware

CNN posted an article this morning about the price of blogging. This is nothing new, but it certainly puts an interesting perspective on recent blogger drama that has cropped up here.

Bloggers learn the price of telling too much CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- Blogs are everywhere -- increasingly, the place where young people go to bare their souls, to vent, to gossip. And often they do so with unabashed fervor and little self-editing, posting their innermost thoughts for any number of Web surfers to see. There is a freedom in it, as 23-year-old Allison Martin attests: "Since the people who read my blog are friends or acquaintances of mine, my philosophy is to be totally honest -- whether it's about how uncomfortable my panty hose are or my opinions about First Amendment law," says Martin, who lives in suburban Chicago and has been blogging for four years. Some are, however, finding that putting one's life online can have a price. A few bloggers, for instance, have been fired for writing about work on personal online journals. And Maya Marcel-Keyes, daughter of conservative politician Alan Keyes, discovered the trickiness of providing personal details online when her discussions on her blog about being a lesbian became an issue during her father's recent run for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois (he made anti-gay statements during the campaign). Experts say such incidents belong to a growing trend in which frank outpourings online are causing personal and public dramas, often taking on a life they wouldn't have if the Web had not come along and turned individuals into publishers. Some also speculate that more scandalous blog entries -- especially those about partying and dating exploits -- will have ramifications down the road. "I would bet that in the 2016 election, somebody's Facebook entry will come back to bite them," Steve Jones, head of the communications department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says, referring to thefacebook.com, a networking site for college students and alumni that is something of a cross between a yearbook and a blog. More traditional blog sites -- which allow easy creation of a Web site with text, photos and often music -- include Xanga, LiveJournal and MySpace. And they've gotten more popular in recent years, especially among the younger set. Surveys completed in recent months by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that nearly a fifth of teens who have access to the Web have their own blogs. And 38 percent of teens say they read other people's blogs. By comparison, about a tenth of adults have their own blogs and a quarter say they read other people's online journals. Amanda Lenhart, a researcher at Pew who tracks young people's Internet habits, says she's increasingly hearing stories about the perils of posting the equivalent of a diary online. She heard from one man whose niece was a college student looking for a job. Out of curiosity, he typed his niece's name into a search engine and quickly found her blog, with a title that began "The Drunken Musings of ...." "He wrote to her and said, 'You may want to think about taking this down,"' said Lenhart, chuckling. Other times, the ease of posting unedited thoughts on the Web can be uglier, in part because of the speed with which the postings spread and multiply. That's what happened at a middle school in Michigan last fall, when principals started receiving complaints from parents about some students' blog postings on Xanga. School officials couldn't do much about it. But when the students found out they were being monitored, a few posted threatening comments aimed at an assistant principal -- and that led to some student suspensions. "It was just a spiraling of downward emotions," says the school's principal. She spoke on the condition that she and her school not be identified, out of fear that being named would cause another Web frenzy. "Kids just feed into to that and then more kids see it and so on," she says. "It's a negative power -- but it's still a power." Lenhart, the Pew researcher, likens blogs to the introduction of the telephone and the effect it had on teen's ability to communicate in the last century. She agrees that the Web has "increased the scope" of young people's communication even more. "But at the root of it, we're talking about behaviors middle-schoolers have engaged in through the millennia," Lenhart says. "The march of technology forward is hard, and it has consequences that we don't always see." She says parents would be wise to familiarize themselves with online blogging sites and to pose questions to their children such as, "What is appropriate?" and "What is fair?" to post. It's also important to discuss the dangers of giving out personal information online. One Pew survey released this spring found that 79 percent of teens agreed that people their age aren't careful enough when giving out information about themselves online. And increasingly, Lenhart says, this applies to blogs. Caitlin Hoistion, a 15-year-old in Neptune, New Jersey, says she knows people who go as far as posting their cell phone numbers on their blogs -- something she doesn't do. She also often shows her postings to her mom, which has helped her mom give her some space and privacy online. "That's not to say if I thought something dangerous was going on, I wouldn't ever spy on her," says her mother, Melissa Hoistion. "But she has given me no need to do so." Many college students say they're learning to take precautions on their own. John Malloy, a 19-year-old student at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, has put a "friends lock" on his LiveJournal site so only people with a password he supplies can view it. "A lot of times, my blog is among the first places I turn when I am angry or frustrated, and I am often quite unfair in my assessment of my situation in these posts," Malloy says. "Do I wish I hadn't posted? Of course. But I haven't actually gone as far to take posts down." Instead he makes them "private" so only he can read them. "I like to keep them to look back on," he says. Meanwhile, Joseph Milliron, a 23-year-old college student in California, says he's become more cautious about posting photos online because people sometimes "borrow" them for their own sites. It's just one trend that's made Milliron rethink what he includes in his blog. "I know this very conspiracy theorist -- but I wouldn't put it past a clever criminal to warehouse different databases and wait 20 years when all the Internet youth's indiscretions can be used for surreptitious purposes," says the senior at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, who's been blogging for about three years. Martin, the 23-year-old blogger in suburban Chicago, agrees that blogs can "provide just one more avenue for a person to embarrass him or herself." "They also make it easier for people to tell everyone what a jerk you are," says Martin, who'll be heading to graduate school in Virginia this fall. Still, she thinks blogging is worth it -- to stay in touch with friends and to air her more creative work, including essays. "I suppose in that way," she says, "I think of blogs as 'open mic nights' online."
I definitely agree it's dangerous to post an easily Googled blog online when you're looking for a job, but at the same time, I think blogging is a great way to bring more honesty to our global culture. There's a certain inherent value, I think, in having everyone's opinions be so easily accessible and taken for what they're worth, both good and bad. I see no reason to punish bloggers for posting their thoughts on the web -- at least we're willing to voice what others are too afraid to say; we're not saying things others aren't thinking. That being said, I totally agree that we're going to see someone's blog bite someone in the ass when it comes to running for office, and I think at that time, we'll find a culture that is more forgiving of public officials having opinions and personalities rather than just being stoic, larger-than-life cardboard-cutout icons of Judeo-Christian virtue. Still, I'm glad I'm not looking for a future in politics...

2 Comments:

Anonymous Kaede said...

I can't forsee any career in politics myself (besides being a politics/socio major at uni) but regardless, people shouldn't be penalised for what they say on blogs, unless it threatens security, whether personal, regional, national or international. I think it's common sense to have personal rules when having a blog/LJ of any kind, as well as finding out what corporate rules there may be if you choose to write about your work life. Some companies have non-disclosure agreements that blogging about your work would be in violation of, for instance.

My view on it is pretty much the same as the one guy in the article - when I have something that I just gotta say, I say it in private. That is what my LJ is for. It's for me to get my feelings out in the least harmful way I can think of. I don't delete them, no matter how hurtful or stupid it seems later. They are my feelings and I see no reason to apologise for it. That is why I keep it f-locked or private. That way only people I trust can view it.

My blog on the other hand is my personal views (not necessarily the same thing as feelings, though those squeeze in there from time to time) on minor and major events going on that I have strong personal views about. I don't see that anything I say in there will have repercussions in the future, should I decide to run for office and I really don't see what business it would be of anyone to think that past feelings have any bearing on current issues unless I have maintained whatever stance I take on any given subject. Plus I have never done (and will never do) anything to be ashamed of, although I understand that people do silly things that they may be worried about. If you do, don't write about it. It just makes you look stupid, unless that's your intention...*chuckles*

7/13/2005 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

If I ever do get a blog, I'm not going to let out too much personal infomation.

7/13/2005 06:31:00 PM  

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