Michael Arrington of TechCrunch stirred the post today with a post titled Reputation Is Dead: It’s Time To Overlook Our Indiscretions. The premise is:
- Embarrassing stuff about anybody can be found.
- Deal with it.
- If there’s embarrassing stuff about EVERYBODY out there, maybe our societal norms will loosen up and get more tolerant.
If anything, Arrington understated the case, by focusing on two kinds of disclosure:
- Specific pieces of information such as photographs, which were originally gathered in a well-intentioned way.
- Anonymous “reviews” — e.g., like those on Yelp, but soon about specific people as well.
That overlooks two other threats:
- Data aggregration or other technologically-advanced snooping used against one.
- Amateur, private-eye-like stakeouts, as cameras and other surveillance equipment get cheaper, and online publication becomes bone-simple.
I.e., Arrington was even more correct than he seemed to realize.
Fred Wilson responded by suggesting that the key issue is making sure that enough good things are said about you to more than compensate for the bad ones. I emphatically agree with that too, as per my 2008 online reputation dictum:
The internet WILL tell stories about you, true or otherwise. Make sure your own version is out there too.
Where Wilson fell down a bit is in suggesting that you should get so many good things said about you they should completely crowd the bad ones off the top page of search engine results. First, this is difficult. Second and more important, if somebody is checking you out for a job or whatever, there’s a good chance they’ll click through to the second page of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). But otherwise his thoughts are spot-on.
To paraphrase Andy Warhol, everybody is a celebrity for 15 minutes, or to an audience of 15 other people. And for many of us, you can tack a few 0s onto those figures. So there’s no reason to expect any more privacy than celebrities have — but there’s also no reason to expect any less tolerance for our failings than is shown to them.