The popular Latin proverb Virtus in medio stat (Virtue stands in the middle) may be the answer to many essential questions in life. Facebook and social networks may become evil. It all depends on how we use them.
All data uploaded to the Internet remains on the Internet eternally, out of control. Data means pictures, feelings, jokes, opinions… that we have voluntarily put in public’s hands. Data which, out of its initial context, could make us be seen as an impolite or irresponsible in the best case, or as a criminal, in the worst.
A meaningful example illustrating this scenario is the case of the machinist implicated in the terrible railway accident which occurred in Spain last July. 78 passengers died and 178 were injured in one of the most tragic train crashes in that country. Soon after the accident, all eyes were put on the driver. He was initially treated by the press and the public opinion with compassion and solidarity. What a terrible charge to live with! Due to a human error that anybody could have made! How could the security of a train rely on one person only?
Those were the first reactions with regard to him, until extracts from his Facebook account started being published. In particular, jokes in which he bragged about the high speed he reached with his train, including pictures of the speedometer. Jokes in which he suggested how funny would have been a race with the Spanish police.
As a result, the general belief drastically changed. For the public opinion, the machinist had become an irresponsible, arrogant criminal whose negligence caused the death of many.
Such jokes, made in a “live” discussion with friends, would have been words gone with the wind, which nobody would have remembered. Everybody brags and makes stupid comments in a joking atmosphere. Unfortunately, the same jokes, stored on the Internet and “replayed” in a drastically different situation, turned him into a villain to the eyes of the public.
It is worrying to see the number of people who write impulsive, foolish statements on the social networks, underestimating their repercussion out of the initial circumstances or audience. The case of the train driver is an extremely dramatic example of the consequences, but it may be seriously harmful in everyday-life situations, too. For instance, in the case of an unemployed person doing job researches, and having such an “unconsidered” Internet attitude. An employer having received this candidate’s CV could access opinions, pictures or personal data through social networks, and get a premature negative perception, misinterpret the applicant’s personality and skills, and decide not to engage him/her. Not even to interview him/her. A lost opportunity due to conclusions made from data out of context.
The natural result of this defenselessness against irresponsible Internet attitudes will probably be the creation of new laws. It has been recently announced that California signed a new law to protect children and teens from their own online posts, by providing them with the option to remove data if they request to. If we, adults, are naïve enough to get caught in the trap of posting compromised statements to the Internet, how can our children be conscious of that?
Teenagers are the most vulnerable collective with regards to the Internet, and the most susceptible of revealing sensitive personal information, including pictures, without realizing the immediate and future consequences.
Even if laws slowly change to protect us, we all have a crucial role in making attitudes change. Not only educating others about the impact of unconsidered words on the Internet. But also carefully treating our own Internet statements, as well as we carefully prepare a public speech. Because Internet means public, and most people would not say stupidities in public.