Sunday, June 01, 2008

Private Becomes Public, Once Again!

File this under "N" for: "Not Going To Happen To Me."

This seems to be happening on a regular basis now. Why aren't we learning from each other's mistakes? The SunSentinel published a report today about teachers having FaceBook profiles with not-so-pristine content. Not that this isn't valid, but still, it must be a slow news week. So, now... if students and parents haven't seen their profiles they have now, thank you. Everyone is embarrassed and jobs are in jeopardy. I do believe teachers are entitled to a private life. Unfortunately, many are not very good at keeping it private. Besides, what does private mean on the Internet, anyway?

That's why I and many in my field of work have been banging our heads against the virtual walls to bring this type of awareness to our teachers and students. What teachers refuse to understand is that the same MySpace, FaceBook, MyFace, FaceSpace, Twitter, Flitter, Flickr, or whatever newest social networking site that allows you to post your life on the web is also the site that creates your permanent record. Teachers understand this when it comes to their students but they don't quite get it when it comes to themselves.

I guess this head-in-the-sand approach is not unique to teachers, it can be any adult who is enjoying the boom of social networking. It's just that the expectations for teachers moral behavior are still so different.

But, will anyone learn?

Once the news was about to break, the public relations director of the school district notified the administrators and a few of the teachers in question pulled their profiles. And, when the story finally hit the public, I'm sure lots more pulled their profiles or cleaned them up. BUT, when will people really understand that once something is published on the Internet, it is never really gone?

Humor me and try this experiment. We'll use the ABC (TV) website.

1. First open a new browser window and go to URL: So you can see what the website looks like today. Here is how it looked when I grabbed this screenshot:

2. Now go to URL:

3. See where it says, “The Wayback Machine?” Type in:

4. Click Take Me Back

Each link represents an update to the ABC website. As you click through the links, you can see how the website looked "wayback" even though the site was pulled and changed. Some of the links and images may be broken, but many are still active. This screenshot is from November 1999 when the big show of the time was The Drew Carey Show.

It's Not Too Late!

Look at all of the images of yourself on the web. This includes pictures posted of you by your friends!

Now, imagine yourself sitting in an office, having an interview. The job you are applying for is your dream job and if you get it, it would mean doing the type of work you love, maybe lots of money, nice clothes, nice people to work with and the American dream. You open your portfolio and on every page is one of those pictures of you on the web. Are you ok with that? If that would embarrass you, or jeopardize your chances of landing that job, now is the time to remove those pictures and think carefully before you not only post more, but before you allow yourself to be in circumstances in the future where pictures like those are being taken.


Anonymous said...

I posted about this same issue about a month ago. it does upset me that the news organizations looking for a gotcha moment clearly post identifying information about these teachers. Yes, the teachers are naive to think that this isn't out there, but no, it should not be a potentially career-ruining mistake. Still, you're right, every time I see one of these stories, it does make me want to bang my head against the wall, because these are almost always younger teachers who have been using this stuff for ages and they still don't get it.

Anonymous said...

This post serves as good advice to those who would post information. There is no knowing to what extent it will go and where it will end up. I was quite surprised this morning when I looked up a phone number on In addition to the phone number and address, the approximate age of the people being searched was presented as well. Information turns up in the strangest of places and we should guard all that we do carefully.

On the other hand, this is an opportunity to turn the tables. If a search for a personna always turns up positive, good for the community results, that may well swing the course of the interview in a positive direction.

Your reference to historical pages is true that things never do go away. Perhaps one of the skills that we need to teach students is how to craft an online portfolio so that they are attractive and hireable by potential employers.

Michelle said...

As I mentioned on BrainFrieze... we discuss this with our new teachers every year during orientation. I feel like it's great for raising awareness without dictating to them what they should do.

HOWEVER... we don't talk to our students about it. Why not? Because we block all those websites at school! Ugh. So we are sending an entire class of kids out into the world to be someone else's problem in the professional world. I will probably be going in front of the school board in the next 6 months to beg them to change some policies. It doesn't do any good for us to help our teachers, but not our students.

Lee Kolbert said...

It's such a shame that the news organizations don't see us as allies. How many times do they call us for sound bites or interviews to help formulate stories? I've learned my lesson! What a shame!

At the risk of sounding like a comic book, these same powers can be used for good and not evil! We should harness the power and control the universe! Great idea!

In our district, we also struggle with teaching our students about this sort of thing. The accepted solution seems to be to block everything and move along. Unfortunately, that's like trying to teach healthy eating by starvation. I know we are not alone and I look forward to a future where we can openly explore and discuss what is, rather than pretend it isn't.

Anonymous said...


I'm still to angry about the use of these teacher's names to post about this again on my blog. But I'll get to the whole managing your persona thing. It's critical for both adults and for our students to understand how this works in the Web 2.0 world. When you trust websites with your very identity you'd better give some thought to what all of that means.

At any rate, I really don't have a problem with the message in the article. But at what point should an editor have stepped in and said "You know, this article could be just as effective without the use of these teacher's names. How about if we just say a '26 year-old teacher at one local elementary school has photos of herself drinking a beer' instead of dragging her name through the mud?"

Too bad the paper wasn't more responsible and more compassionate towards these young teachers.

Teach42 said...

I hope that everybody who reads this post thinks about five of their colleagues who are most likely to have Facebook and MySpace profiles... and think about whether they're deliberate with what information they put online.

Be a friend and bring it to their attention.

Anonymous said...

To block the archive system and google searching, parents and students should only use services that permit blocking via the standard "robots.txt" technique., for example, and some other free web services, will allow you to place a "blocker" on your web site, that ethical archival sites like the Wayback Machine will respect.

There is of course no absolute protection against that content coming back to hurt you. It certainly does make sense that you should periodically check what comes up when you google for your real name, and if possible, to minimize it.


eplybon said...

I've always tried to live following the same guidelines I always told students: Don't put anything out there on the web that you wouldn't want your grandma to see. You might also think about your grandchildren someday seeing it, as well, because everything that has been put out the web stays there for a very very long time. As you said, if you are okay with a future potential employer asking you to explain your "teachers gone wild" photos, then go right ahead and be that visible. Basically, if you feel like you would be able to defend yourself if something ever came into question, then you are probably okay.