Yesterday evening I spent some time chatting with a major news program that is doing a piece on Google. During the conversation, the correspondent asked how engines like Google are changing our own sense of self as we relate to the rest of the world. I went off on my (now rather tired) example of a hypothetical Deadbeat Dad who failed to make child support payments, was called out in court and in the local papers. He eventually mended his ways, paid up, and decided that because his reputation was sullied in the community where he lived, he’d move to another state and start over fresh.
But when he got to his new home, he couldn’t get a job. Why? Because unbeknownst to him, his potential employers had Googled him, and found out he was a deadbeat dad.
But damn, if I had talked to the correspondent today, I could have just pointed her to Tim Bray’s thoughts:
Today, I’m angry. A person with whom I have to deal is misbehaving and may destroy something good through bad, inexcusably bad, behavior…..Suppose I posted a piece here whose title was that person’s name, laying out in succinct but forceful detail the nature of the bad behavior, solidly illustrated by pointers to online examples. Suppose I offered a calmly-worded opinion that nobody in their right mind should consider hiring, or doing business with, or dating, this person. Suppose some other people who shared my opinions saw fit to point to the attack and perhaps chime in a bit. Given the way search engines work, I’d say that such an attack would be extremely damaging, and very hard to recover from. Would I do this? I don’t think so, unless it was a matter of life or death. But I sure do think about it sometimes.
That’s the power of search: to paint a possibly skewed, damaging, or incomplete picture of a person. Given that engines tend to rank on popularity, and that searchers tend to read only the first few results, who you are in the index becomes, in a very real sense, who you are in the public eye. I’m quite sure Dan Rather has Googled himself lately, and is not pleased with the results.
Jeremy also has some thoughts on this….