Thursday, April 12, 2007

Online Footprints

This article by Tim Kevan and Aidan Ellis appeared on the new Bar Council Blog on 12 April 2007.

As we launch the Bar Council Blog this week and reflect upon the convergence of old and new, it raises an issue which may become increasingly relevant for prospective lawyers of the future: the extent to which they may take account of an applicant’s online footprint. Many people at one time or another have left comments on a blog, sometimes perhaps without giving it a second thought. Others have their own pages on sites such as MySpace. In the light of this, it is perhaps not surprising that a recent YouGov poll was reported in IT Pro to show that 15% of firms rejected employees on the basis of their online footprint and this was as high as 25% when it came to human resources managers. Of course, there may well be issues of privacy and freedom of expression. However, whatever the law eventually dictates, it raises the practical question as to how any such problem can be avoided in the first place.

In this respect, it’s important to realise that once you’ve posted something online, it’s potentially out of your control and into the wilderness of cyberspace. Even if you have a website which you then take down, some search engines and other sites may already have recorded your content and ping it back up when a search is being made. This is not to suggest that everyone should sit around being so cautious that they become like the worst politicians, saying nothing, taking no risks and draining the soul out of any of their communications. However, it is to remind people that just like email, what you post is not the same as having a conversation with your friends, something which disappears into the ether. This is not to give a view on the rights and wrongs of any such searches. But it is to counsel caution when you sit down in front of a computer and think of writing a rude or indiscreet comment online.

2 comments:

david giacalone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david giacalone said...

I want to remind your readers not to count on leaving anonymous comments or writing anonymously at a weblog to preserve their identity. There are many ways to discover who wrote offending words. As you say, using discretion in the first place is the best strategy and is not too much to ask of a current or prospective member of the bar.

Another issue worth mentioning is the lack of anonymity for one's search engine queries. Go to this post at SHLEP to find out how to preserve your search engine privacy -- http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/shlep/2006/12/27/search-engine-privacy-strategies/