Friday, June 23, 2006

Branding Together

Recently, the Wired Campus from the Chronicle of Higher Education showcased a new netiquette guide on social networking for Cornell students: Thoughts on Facebook.

Given that even the Pentagon is perusing social networking sites, it's probably wise to remind college students that they are only a Google search away from unwitting gaffes in the future as jobseekers, community members, and citizens. "Thoughts" is a strong affirmation of privacy principles from a campus that isn't monitoring its own students, but it's also a lesson in Virtualpolitik for eventual graduates that this absence of prurient interest won't be true in the "real world." If online identities are malleable, this guide points out that they are also amply and permanently recorded in data caches in ways that the traces of informal social interactions in oral culture are not. I was especially struck by how the rhetoric of common sense advice about Facebook emphasized a "be your own brand" ethos.

Take a moment to think about how you want to "brand" yourself on the Internet. Almost everyone is more complex of a person than a single label can explain, but for most people it takes time and effort, if not real friendship, to get to know people's complexities. Don't give people an excuse to think of you in a single dimensional way. Instead of trying just to fit into a single group, think about yourself as an interesting person with depth of personality and character. What you put out on Facebook about yourself should be an invitation to the rest of the world to get to know you better.

Then consider what it takes to get something removed from Google. You must go through their policy process for removing information from their caching technology. Not only is that a lot of bureaucracy, but also you should know that while Google is the dominant search engine on the Internet today, it might not be tomorrow. Moreover, other search engines operate currently on the Internet and so it is not just Google whom you might have to contact in order to remove a page.

Author Tracy Mitrano has written some other interesting policy statements, and includes a link to the official Cornell response to onerous new CALEA regulations alongside her own utopian proposal for creating more intellectual shareware between universities through a program called InCommon, which reminds me of the aims of the aborted SPIDER project, with which I was associated.

I suppose I've followed Mitrano's advice by keeping my own facebook portal extremely neutral, although I can't say any longer that I have no friends. (Those without Facebook accounts may be interested to learn that the current banner on the site is for, an NGO aimed at improving the conditions of life for nine million refugee children around the world.)

Speaking of regrettable Web appearances by young people, for a while the University of Colorado police department maintained another kind of facebook that showed its denizens lighting up illegal substances in front of a surveillance camera. Police officers paid $50 to those who could ID people shown in the online pics.

While I'm at it, I have to mention how creepy I find the interest of middle aged male journalists in the facebook exploits of nubile female athletes on, a fascination that has somehow merited attention in supposedly highbrow NPR and LA Observed. Bad Jocks ostensibly was founded by a disillusioned fan as a reaction against the failure of sports venues to serve as the genuine public spheres they should, but mostly it keeps its readers updated on male cheerleaders and rugby streakers. The performance of women in many successive Olympics says more about the success of Title IX than these morally stunted readings of the impact of the law.

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Blogger Julia Lupton said...

Well-written netiquette for Cornell students -- and anyone else! I just followed some links and ended up in a blog by a graduate student complaining about her advisor. Whooo. At least it wasn't me!

You mention social networking. Funny essay, "When Ass Kissing Became Networking," by Dirk Wittenborn, in the new anthology, The Revolution Will Be Accessorized. No digital commentary, though!

6:21 AM  

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