(Used with permission from Reputation.com)
Think about Sunil Tripathi, the Brown student who was incorrectly identified as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing (and later discovered to have died in an unrelated tragedy). Users on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter helped this rumor spin out of control, causing tremendous pain to a family wondering where this young person was.
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It’s one example but there are innumerable others, of all varieties—from recently digitized legal records that show a DUI from 20 years ago to a picture shared when someone trusted the wrong person to an e-mail that goes viral.
That’s why we’re seeing the proliferation of new apps—like Retwact, which lets users modify incorrect tweets and share updates, and Snapchat, which enables sharing of texts and photos with a short (seconds-long) shelf life.
Imperfect though these are—as a rule of first instance, if you have any say in the matter, it is better not to publish the problematic stuff in the first place—they are symptomatic of an important dysfunction of the Web.
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Once information—correct or not—is published, it’s the pinball in the Internet’s arcade game: hurtling in unexpected directions, bouncing off different points. But unlike the game, it often never comes to rest. That perpetuity can be unduly and extraordinarily harmful, especially for individuals because we’re not static—we change, grow, evolve our thinking, learn, adopt new social norms, etc. So what may have been reflective of someone once may not be now. Or what was presumed to be true isn’t—but the corrections don’t live on like the lie.
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In a digital world, should some modification mechanisms exist? Should we have access to everything forever? How can we manage our personal brand? Who needs to push for change and how could it happen?
Should we have the right to retract and change information about ourselves in social media?