Bring integrity to the Internet
There aren't many options when your name is soiled on the Internet.
In this brave new online world of user-generated content, people are entitled not only to their own opinion, but to their own blogs and websites, tens of thousands of them crawling out of the ooze daily, climbing up Google's rankings, linking to one another and bringing their content to a screen near you.Skip to next paragraph
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Most of this stuff is harmless. Some of it is truly breathtaking. There is real power in the fingertips of people who only 10 years ago wouldn't have had much of a voice past their front porch. But increasingly, online words and images are causing dismay and real damage for other people who never wanted to be in the public spotlight, much less one that's accessible 24/7.
Today, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can post defamatory statements to the Web in a matter of seconds. The fact-checking apparatus and journalistic integrity standards that once provided a healthy buffer and filter between words and a wide audience have come crashing down.
Beware what appears in its place. The First Amendment gives people without integrity on the Web tremendous power, too. We need to develop an awareness among Internet users of the importance of acting with honesty and in good faith.
I spent seven years as a dean of students at an independent school in Philadelphia. I've watched fights break out, friends break up, and parents appear at my door, in tears, all over some nonsense posted online about their child that they were virtually powerless to remove.
Megasites like MySpace and Facebook have clear policies, but their rules invariably have more bark than bite. There is no telephone number to call. Sometimes days go by before the webmaster responds, usually in an unsigned e-mail. And even then there's often a catch.
Your child's anguish may not trump someone else's First Amendment rights.
Principals have more leverage, but they are busy people. Sometimes the parents of a scared or depressed child can get the principal to invite the posters of the offending material and their parents into the office for a conversation. This often results in the deletion of the material in question; that is, if the posters aren't anonymous, or from another school.
You don't have to be a teen to be adversely affected by the confluence of powerful new communication tools and average people using those tools with the intent to do harm.
Right now I am in the midst of an inane conflict with a webmaster of a high-traffic site who refuses to remove an offensive blog about me that is laden with epithets and defamatory statements.