By Jared Newman | Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 4:35 pm
In an article that hits close to home, the Chronicle of Higher Education notes how former writers for their college newspapers are shocked and chagrined to see their past words coming back to haunt them. The most telling anecdotes come from an education reporter whose old essay on college hookup culture was used against her by white supremacists and a Marine who feared his comrades would discover his essays on war, politics and economic policy.
In both cases, the editors refused to take down the old articles. They also would not “hide” the essays from search engines.
Coincidentally, The Business Insider’s Dan Frommer writes that a fellow Medill alumnus is circulating a petition to “darken” offending stories.
This is not the same situation as, say, when someone posts pictures of you without your knowledge or when you get arrested and turn up in the police blotter for all to see. These people wrote for an outlet which they knew appeared online, but failed to realize that their writing would stick around forever.
I’m not totally unsympathetic. Elementary school parents reading an education reporter probably don’t want to hear her opinions on sex. Having never served in the military, I can’t comment on the culture there, but I take the Marine’s word that he potentially faces some awkward situations.
In the end, though, the Internet is far too vast for people to demand retractions for everything that doesn’t sit well in retrospect. If someone really wants to dig up dirt on you, they’ll find it anyway.
Bottom line? Whether you’re a professional writer, commenter or occasional forum poster who doesn’t use an alias, be willing to stand by your writing for as long as the Internet exists, or be ready to explain why those words are no longer relevant. Otherwise, don’t write.