What Happens On The Internet Stays On The Internet (Duh)

By  |  Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 4:35 pm

internetanonymityTo preface, on a whim I searched the above phrase in Google and was surprised by how many results came up, verbatim (minus the “duh”). There’s even a T-shirt. I guess it can never be said enough.

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.


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. seth Says:

    Not sure I understand the point of this report. I’m trying to be polite – hint hint.

  2. Dan Knight Says:

    Under copyright law, unless these were “work for hire” articles, the copyright remains with the author of these works, not the publication that posted them. If these publications won’t take material down after a polite request, perhaps a DMCA notice will do the job.

    Of course, that won’t remove things from the Internet Archive….

  3. JDoors Says:

    I can’t believe we haven’t figured out ownership, distribution and control issues by this time. Unless a distributor has a signed contract stating they may publish a work in perpetuity, they should abide by the author’s request to remove their work. I guess that assumes that each ‘page view’ constitutes ‘publication.’ Hmm, I guess there ARE issues yet to be hammered out.

  4. JTaylor Says:

    C’mon. I can’t believe what I’m reading. a DMCA notice for stuff you wrote that sucks? The internet Archive is just that, an archive. It’s not a publication, so the DMCA notice is a bunch of nonsense. People need to own the crap as well as the gold they write. And by “own” I mean taking responsibility for it. This is all another mess the current broken copyright system has bestowed upon us. It’s nauseating to think that someone can remove things from archives simply because their precious “image” may be tarnished because they stunk at journalism when they were young. This is beyond pathetic and certainly not what the Founders intended copyright to be. But no one cares anymore, and this mentality simply reinforces that apathy.

  5. Tkdblk Says:

    I am a teacher. This reminds me of last year when a 7th grade girl complained to her friend that our Principal saw her Facebook page and called her in to her office to talk about showing private body parts on the net.

    The girl was deadly serious when she said that the shot was intended to be “private.”

    Go figure!

  6. Tkdblk Says:

    BTW: the parents of the girl really had no feelings about the incident, one way or the other.

  7. D.F. Manno Says:

    It’s not just what you write that you know (or should know) will be published on the Internet. Things you wrote long before the Web was even invented can also come back to haunt you. Something I wrote 28 years ago was cited in a book written a few years back, and the author or his publisher chose that chapter to put on the Web.

  8. Bill in NC Says:

    Does no one use a “pen name” anymore?

    If you “google” my real name, what you will find is almost a decade old.

    Fortunately, several other people share that name so I have plausible deniability.

    I’m embarrassed I was ever naive enough to use my real name for any written pieces (online or on paper).

  9. Peter Says:

    I thought I’d come up with an original spoof of the “What happens in Vegas…” ad.
    For about 30 seconds that is.
    I googled and this was the first result.

  10. matt Says:

    someone typed my youtube name into google and discovered my deviantart account with all the pictures of my weird fetishes and everything. i had to transfer school. that's the last time i ever tell anyone my internet usernames.