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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Student Weblogs

A few days ago I put a look of horror into one of our graduate students when I went up to him and simply said "You should be careful about what you write in your weblog."

The number of weblogs continue to grow and more and more students are starting to put their thoughts online. Many of them write brutally honest opinions of some of their academic and non-academic experiences or just write very silly or nasty stuff about themselves or each other.

You might think that only the fellow students you have told about your weblog read your weblog, but chains of links are easily followed. Many of us also have automated searches; if you link to my weblog or use the phrase "Computational Complexity", I'll see what you have said. If you really want to limit your readership you can put in some password protection and I strongly suggest that you do so.

Luckily for the student above, I just laugh off such weblog entries, but they can come back to haunt you. When you apply for jobs, you will get Googled and your odd weblog entries can count against you. Deleting your entries off the internet does not necessarily make them disappear, they might have been downloaded or cached.

Just remember when you write your next post, the Internet never forgets.

16 comments:

  1. I have a strict policy that I am willing to say to someone in person more offensive things than I would ever put in writing. Not that I try to offend, more that I double-check what I write much more carefully than what I say. Writing is permanent, but spoken words are more easily forgotten or attributed to the heat of the moment, and they are usually heard by far fewer people. It's also harder to prove that you said something than that you wrote it.

    Some people, for instance students in a class, follow the opposite policy: they will be perfectly nice in person, but turn into vicious flame-warriors when posting non-anonymously to a public discussion forum. I've never figured out what they think they are gaining by waiting until they sit down at the keyboard to start with the venom.

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  2. I just wanted to say that was a damn good post, and thank g-d someone cached it.

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  3. There's another problem with blogs, email, etc in conveying certain types of humor. Something meant as a joke, perhaps involving irony, is easily misconstrued as serious when read as text, when there is no body language or voice inflection to go by. I've seen this happen many times.

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  4. So we usually say "Google is evil" because we often found some interesting entries about ourselves :)

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  5. Just as we have copyright laws, we should also have laws that enforce people's requests to have their posted material deleted (everywhere, not just from search engine indices).

    One could imagine something like a robots.txt standard for specifying material that should be deleted within a month for example. This request would apply not only to search engine indices but also to any copies made of the material.

    Although hard to enforce (just as copyright is hard to enforce), it might be a start towards giving people some privacy on the internet.

    One could imagine that any company making use of material for hiring purposes that should have been deleted could be sued.

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  6. Even if such a system is implemented and laws enforced, the *impressions* created will still have an influence. Companies or universities will simply not make their use of such material official but still use the information anyway.

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  7. When I first contemplated starting a blog, I was wary of it's potential to come back and bite me later. So, I started it, but I try to keep the material on it strictly professional, with a few minor deviations from that policy to give it some color and personality. So far, this has worked fine, but then, I haven't applied for faculty positions yet. If I use it well, I hope that it will actually be a mark in the plus-column for the hiring committee rather than in the minus-column. But... I kind of doubt hiring committees view one's work as a public intellectual as having any real bearing on your quality as a professor. If this is true, it will make me sad.

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  8. Always blog as if your mother will be reading it.

    Actually, my blog is rated PG and I don't do anything too embarrassing. However, it's kind of like someone following me to my car and noticing my John Kerry and vegetarian bumper stickers. Someone could easily know my political beliefs by reading my blog. When I TA I try not to wear any partisan shirts or speak of politics, but any student interested enough would soon find where I stand (and then perhaps ask me "are you a libertarian?")

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  9. My mother does read my blog, as well as my father, more distant members of my family, a hundred of my closest friends, random strangers who have become fans, and one stalker.

    I started writing long before I knew I was going to grad school. Even so, I've always tried to be careful about what I write. It's a delicate art.

    Students who are currently of grad school age have potentially been on the web since they were pre-teens. Your post is aimed at students who are old enough to know better, but a Google search might also turn up some embarrassing web flotsam from childhood that they have no control over.

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  10. http://psychcentral.com/blogs/

    Lance recently brought Luca's very personal blog to my attention and I have read a few of its entries. I have learned quite a bit about his personality. Now I know a lot more about him than I used to, and yet he knows nothing more about me. A perfect one-way transfer of information! I wonder that he doesn't mind.

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  11. Man. That Lance Fortnow guy is such a jerk. I hope he doesn't read this though.

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  12. Scott Aaronson lv dq hyhq juhdwhu mhun

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  13. Lance, is there no policy on removing abusive comments? The last three comments are pretty bad, but the last one especially is inexcusable.

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  14. It seems that some people want to risk their kneecaps...

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