To Social Network or Not To Social Network? How Facebook May Screw You - UPDATED!
The need to express personal feelings, dietary habits, travel itineraries, misfortunes and general whereabouts has become widespread. This somewhat egomaniacal urge has spawned from the proliferation of social media websites - facebook, myspace, twitter, linkedin and other general blogs. But what to do when these social media outlets cause embarrassment, ridicule, or worse...?
What compels me to write this post today was reading this entry on the Huffington post "The Funniest Facebook Snafus Of All Time" and Facebook recent privacy changes. The first article made me laugh for a good 10 minutes, but then hilarity was overcome by a sinking feeling of terror (fueled by the second article): world-wide-web embarrassment could happen to anyone, it could happen to you or me.
The idea of offering to the public an extremely private or sacred piece of information, offers a compelling question at this point of my life: should we protect our lives from lab mates, co-workers, collaborators and supervisors? How much information should we really put out there? Are our private lives a liability for our careers? Do we risk to lose the respect of our colleagues or bosses after they take a glance at the "crazy pictures from last night party at John's house"? Should graduate students be weary of messages, posts, pictures they share with the world? In my opinion the answer is YES.
Any good book on graduate school will warn the student too eager to produce his or her first research article from publishing mediocre results, to avoid the embarrassment years down the road, when that journal article might be considered at best, regrettable. Likewise, these social networks are creating an everlasting retrievable digital trail that one day may be hard to look back with pride.
Tasteless pictures, controversial comments and opinions might not turn off a prospective employer or collaborator, but we should all keep in mind that we are liable for whatever we decide to release into the "social media-sphere", and that it is certainly up to one's judgment to decide what's appropriate and what's not appropriate
That being said, to open up our lives and psyches to general examination by people who might judge us may seem scary. But personal expression can be quite liberating. Also, sharing the content of our character and displaying an interesting personality may actually endear someone to you; your lab-mates may find you funnier than during those 'Thursdays morning meetings' and your future boss may think that your traveling experience may come in handy with the new collaborator from Spain.
There is no doubt that social networking may be a liability when used inappropriately, but the possibilities for success (personal and non-personal) are limitless. Perhaps, one must remember the goal for which social networks were created : simpler and faster social interaction.
UPDATE Feb 10 - As though we needed another social networking website the "big G" aka big brother Google jumped in the mix with the new 'Google Buzz', here's what NOT to get into: