Last night I received an email message from someone who obviously did not want me to know who she (or he) was. The screen name was “trinity gurl.”
This message informed me about the blog of a Trinity student. In the opinion of “trinity gurl” the student’s blog was inappropriate. “trinity gurl” helpfully provided a link directly to the student’s blog, which I read closely. The blog used vulgar language in talking about certain public political matters, but otherwise, the blog was unremarkable and harmless. However, the blog did have a link to Trinity’s website, and this also seemed to be a concern for “trinity gurl.” We can’t control who puts a link to our website on their sites, but we do discourage any unofficial use of our website, images, logos, and other such items.
Who is “trinity gurl” and why is she sending me this kind of information about something a student is posting online? This episode points to some of the dangers of being too unguarded in cyberspace. Perhaps “trinity gurl” is another student, someone who has had an argument with the student she was criticizing; perhaps she wanted me to punish the other student. Perhaps she’s a member of the Trinity family — student, faculty, staff, alumna — who believes that the blogger’s use of vulgarity reflects badly on Trinity (she’s right). Perhaps she’s someone else entirely, maybe an employer checking references (don’t believe me? read this article from the UCLA student newspaper about how employers are now withdrawing job offers because of stuff students post on facebook.com)(and here’s another article on how employers, police and others are using facebook.com to get info about you)
My point is simply this: none of us know who is reading what we post online, and carelessness can get you into a world of trouble in ways you might not realize today. In this region, we’ve recently seen the very tragic story of Taylor Behl, the VCU freshman who was murdered by someone she met via one of the online student groups. A recent story in the Washington Post discusses emerging school policies on blogs in lower education.
In higher education, we try to avoid any form of censorship, but we sure do discourage naive, unwise and irresponsible conduct. Yes, you have free speech — to a point. Trashing another person online could be defamation, making you the target of a lawsuit. Posting a lot of very personal information is an open invitation to predators, and could harm your future ability to get a national security clearance, or land a job you really want, or win an election. I’ve had students tell me, “I just don’t care about that — I don’t intend to have that kind of job.” Well, you just don’t know. In an age that George Orwell would recognize — Big Brother is certainly watching, perhaps calling him/herself “trinity gurl” — discretion is a virtue worth practicing when enjoying the fun of blogging (I love it!) without setting yourself up for future heartache.
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