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Twitter Mob Rules

We've been talking about this for a month now: the extent that social networking is a potent political force. Now there's evidence that it's extremely effective (and quick!) for at least one thing: banning books. A Facebook page and Twitter outcry over what seems like a handbook to child abuse was initially met by Amazon.com with a floral press release about the importance of the first amendment. Hours later, in typical Amazon.com fashion, they quietly pulled the objectionable title from the store.

It might be noted that the same force also temporarily made what seems like a poorly written, toxic book into a bestseller -- no doubt due to the morbid curiosity of those who suddenly became aware of it because of the boycott. Without the boycott it would still be available, but floundering deep in the sales rankings. So is this win or lose for social networking? And how excited should we be that an outraged group can quickly bully Amazon.com into yanking down titles?

The End of Forgetting

The Web Means the End of Forgetting is an excellent piece in today's New York Times about the perils of web on professional life. Jeffrey Rosen's article has the broadest and deepest scope of the many articles I've seen about the problem.

It's often said that we live in a permissive era, one with infinite second chances. But the truth is that for a great many people, the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances -- no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you've done is often the first thing everyone knows about you.

What "privacy" means in the age of Facebook has been an item of both discussion and argument among our group. I think that "privacy" isn't exactly the right word, since much of the problem is the ubiquity and longevity of things people do, after all, "in public." However, there is definitely something akin to privacy that has been lost: the ability to keep our selves separate, and to leave some selves behind. I think Rosen hits the nail on the head when he describes the problem as an identity crisis.

For young people inclined to be silly or careless with their web persona, this can even put their future in jeopardy. Even more cautious folks can be photographed and identified at their weakest moment. For every job interview, they may as well show up drunk and wearing a lampshade hat, since their employer will see them that way. (Of course people with common names are a bit exempt from this issue. No such luck for the Kurtis Scalettas of the world.)

What can we do as academic technology consultants to help protect students from themselves? Will any warnings be similar to campus-wide anti-drinking campaigns, which may or may not have any effect on the inevitable experimentation and recklessness that goes with being young?