Who Will You Be?

Public relations blogger Lauren Vargas has a wise and thought-provoking post up today about Choosing the Path of Humility. She says, in part:

How can you determine who is true? The wisdom of realizing one’s own ignorance is a tough pill to swallow…for anyone. There cannot be authenticity without humility.

  • Take responsibility. This does not mean take the limelight…sometimes it is best to step aside and shut-up.
  • Be accountable.
  • Admit sometimes others are right.
  • Ask for feedback. Follow through on such feedback.
  • Recognize others.
  • Treat others with respect.

Like many admissions-related bloggers, I have been following the recent “Facebook Gate” story as uncovered by Brad J. Ward of SquaredPeg and Butler University.

Most people’s reactions to the story (which you can catch up on here, if you need to), seem to fall into two broad camps:

1) This is terrible, how could they think this was okay, what can we do to prevent this from happening again?! or

2) Relax, it’s only Facebook.

I’m interested in the tension between the two world views implied in the comments.

Earlier this year, I attended the NJAIS conference, and the conversation in one of the sessions turned to the concept of digital citizenship. Again, there was a split, with some folks feeling that students were MUCH too free with their personal data, and others feeling that this increased transparency was just part of the water our students swim in, and that it is we who need to adjust our perspective to keep up with the times.

When Facebook first started, no one was writing articles about college admissions officers checking Facebook pages, because no admissions officers had a clue about what Facebook was. Now many admissions officers have Facebook accounts of their own, and so of course it’s a logical next step that a few of them might take their curiousity about the students whose files they’re reviewing over to Google or Facebook.

So. Here’s a question.

To what extent can current high school students count on a “youthful indescretion” defense when and if some of the “digital tattoos” (as John Palfrey of Harvard’s Berkman Center called them on NPR’s Here and Now today) they’ve inadvertently created for themselves follow them into adulthood?

Were you horrified when you saw the pictures of Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau that surfaced via his Facebook account earlier this month? Or did you shrug and chalk it up to “Hey, we’ve all been there… guess he’s learned his lesson?”

When I worked in college admissions, I used to say that admissions was a point at which people became data. What is the point at which one’s digital trail becomes a part of one’s reputation? Does that point vary from industry to industry, from person to person, from situation to situation? Will any of the young interns who created multiple Facebook Class of 2013 groups this year ever be asked to account for their actions by a potential employer or associate?

In a universe populated by infinitely revisable yet sometimes indelible online identities, what will authenticity look like and how important will it be?

Who will you be?

(Image: flyzipper via Flickr)

Posted on December 23, 2008, in big picture. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thank you for bringing this issue to Facebook’s attention. We have investigated the situation and found that these groups and a number of accounts associated with their creation were in violation of our terms of service. These groups and accounts have been disabled. – Barry Schnitt (barry@facebook.com)

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