Bring integrity to the Internet
There aren't many options when your name is soiled on the Internet.
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It was all fun and games until the content of the blog was brought up during a recent job interview. Could it be that the interviewers took Google's search results – literally, the high ranking of the Web page in question – as evidence of some kind of merit?Skip to next paragraph
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The Internet, led by the pervasive power of Google's ranking system, has become an extension of your résumé. And here's the real kicker: When thwarted by a webmaster who refuses to give ground, an average citizen can have a very hard time getting links that lead to offensive material off the first page of Google's search results.
The problem with the Internet is not that there are too many writers. It's that there aren't enough gatekeepers with integrity, and there is no clear and consistent way to resolve disputes. Graffiti on the street can be erased or painted over. The critical and sometimes harsh opinions in newspapers and magazines undergo careful scrutiny by editors who get paid, in part, for knowing the legal definition of libel and how to avoid it. The text and images on today's websites are not always vetted properly. In some cases, they are not vetted at all.
This is yet another reason to lament the dark clouds that have formed over the newspaper industry.
The only kind of text-based information that gets removed from searches immediately by Google are social security numbers and credit card numbers. Just about everything else is fair game and food for the machine.
Google may need to consider the loopholes in its "do no harm" mantra.
The lure of the Web is powerful in large part because of its lack of accountability. But that lack, combined with questionable integrity, tilts that power onto a path we should not continue down.
What little control individuals have boils down to several unreliable options: Plead with the blogger or webmaster for mercy. Remind him or her of the real effects words can have on real people. Be cautious. Don't be surprised if what you write in an e-mail ends up on a website. Ask the website's host company to investigate the offensive material (sometimes the host will shut down a site if its content violates the host's "terms and conditions"). Contact the advertisers on the website in question, and complain. As a last resort, hire a lawyer.
It would be nice if popular bloggers and webmasters of high-traffic sites joined professional associations, pursued continuing education credits, and pledged to uphold a code of ethics.
Some schools are starting to teach net etiquette and online citizenship. Some bullies, however, never grow up; for them, the online world is one giant playground.
For the rest of us, our real power is our moral high ground. Unfortunately, integrity can't be searched.