An interesting post in the Ethicist Column from the March 11 2007 Sunday Times magazine section (yes I know it is Thursday and I am finally getting to it… in my house reading the Sunday Times is a week-long event) about whether one should include information gleaned from sites like FaceBook and MySpace or personal blogs when evaluating candidates…in this case, the individual posing the question was interviewing a high school student who was applying to his alma mater. The interviewer then “googled” the student’s name and some unsavory things emerged.
The Ethicist, imho, gets it when he says “Because such material will not be considered for most students, it is unfair to subject your interviews to this additional scrutiny” and my favorite: “Put down the mouse and step away from the computer. You should not Google these students in the first place, let alone make your dubious discoveries a factor in college acceptance.”
Just because you can Google someone does not mean that the information that comes up is accurate. Or complete. Case in point…I just “googled myself” in Google image search. Here is what came up:
Guess what? Not a single one of the images tagged as me is me.
Goodness gracious. It seems so hypocritical when we in Academia feel we need to educate our students on how to be safe on line, and then we turn around and end up being their own worst nightmare by confusing access to their personal sites with license to dig deeper. We seem to be quick to slam Wikipedia (more on that later) for its inconsistencies, and yet we will stop dead in our tracks and consider anything as the Gospel if it means finding dirt on someone…
We all have some icky things rumbling around in our closets. The web now makes those things easier to find, but do we really have to look? Oh and by the way, is accessing Facebook to do that digging within the acceptable use policy of Facebook…? Some would say not. Some would say, as does The Ethicist, that you should just look away. But if we must look, have we lost our bearings to such an extent that we cannot discern that there may be a variety of realities out there for any one person… the good, the bad, and the oh my..?
At NAIS there was a wonderful keynote by Azar Nafisi in which she talked about the importance of schools as a place to create context for our students. She spoke eloquently about how our world is saturated with information, and yet as citizens we lack a compass, a context, a means to navigate in and around and through that information. Nafisi noted that this information overload has made us smug as a culture and as a result we have lost our ability to genuinely question our world around us. She argued passionately for schools to be the place to provide that context, but also a place to appreciate difference, to have empathy for others, and most importantly, to acknowledge that people and ideas and things have a variety of facets, not just that which comes up after a .21 second Google search.
Read the Ethicist’s article…and the follow up. And tell me what you think.