You have to wonder what the future holds for Ashley Patrick. Last month, the School of the Arts senior sent a tweet in which she criticized a black classmate by name and included a pic of a young white girl and the phrase, "I wish a nigga would." And for doing so, Patrick was suspended from school. Not surprisingly, local media pounced on her story.
Ashley Patrick is exactly the type of person that Google CEO Eric Schmidt was talking about last week when he said that this generation of teens is the first that will not be allowed to forget their mistakes. Most of their formative years have been recorded online, and that includes the youthful indiscretions that nearly all teens commit. Fifteen years ago, Patrick's offhand comment would likely have been forgotten soon after it was made. In the years ahead, she'll still be trying to explain why she sent the controversial tweet.
If you've ever made a politically incorrect comment online, posted racy pictures of yourself, displayed your guns in a blog photo, used sexually explicit language in a tweet, posted controversial statements in a newspaper comment section, made drug references on Facebook, bashed your boss online, tweeted photos mocking fat people, or done a whole host of other seemingly harmless things, you may eventually find that you aren't much different than Patrick.
After a long legal fight with the Federal Trade Commission, Max Drucker is finally legally operating his company, Social Intelligence, here in the United States. Social Intelligence will provide employers with a credit score-like online rating for prospective employees by combing the internet for every detail of their lives. His deep web search software examines comments you thought you posted anonymously on blogs, newspaper websites, Craigslist, and bulletin boards, The New York Times reported. Less than a third of the data Social Intelligence mines comes from the major social media sites.
With that kind of search, even a single click of a mouse can cost you a job, as one applicant panned by Social Intelligence discovered. He made the mistake of liking a Facebook page called "This Is America. I Shouldn't Have to Press 1 for English," and as a result, he wasn't hired. Others have been crossed off the list because they've posted pictures of their legally purchased firearms. Employers don't like that, and it earns you a negative rating from Drucker's company. Although Social Intelligence is in its infancy, the industry is rapidly growing.
In the future, this is the way we will all be judged. This kind of background checking, applied routinely by employers, would be more effective than any speech code the government could concoct in the hope of enforcing political correctness. A single hot-headed comment left on a blog could have the same effect on a corporate career as a six-inch tattoo on the side of your neck.
And it's downright frightening to think about who may be judging you in the future based on what you've said and done in the past, especially now that government agencies like the IRS have begun to comb Facebook and social media pages looking for evidence that people are cheating on their taxes. The ACLU is currently locked in a legal battle with the IRS over the latter's insistence that they have the right to read your private e-mail without a warrant. Does the IRS use the same kind of deep web search software Drucker's company does in investigations? I wouldn't be surprised if they did. Put it all together, and government agencies have all they need to start targeting us for what we think.
With a long internet trail to follow, the possibilities are endless. CNN recently reported that the FBI maintains copies of all digital conversations, including cell phone calls. Last week, bureau officials admitted they are trying to get automatic back doors built into communications software so they can monitor all e-mail, text, and verbal communications without being foiled by encryption. And of course, they'll be able to do all of this without a warrant.
Schmidt is correct when he says that people are sharing way too much personal information on the internet. Whether or not to take a political stand, join a political group, or even state a simple political opinion online will be something people may have to weigh going forward. And if the Google CEO is right, many people will decide that remaining silent is safer.