Monday, February 27, 2006

"Self-promotion" and the Net: the media concerns mount

In early 2006 the media continues to make sensational reports about the dangers to high school and college students about misusing social networking websites (like and, and career counselors have joined the chorus with an increase in stories alleging that employers now routinely screen applicants and perhaps current associates for attention-drawing behaviors on the web.

While over the first decade or so of the Web’s availability to the public there has been a freewheeling, anything-goes culture, suddenly there is this backlash, with suggestions that unsupervised self-promotion on the Web is unprofessional and can endanger others, on the school campus, on the job, or even within the family. I am reminded of the rhetorical use of the phrase “self-promoting queer” in Clive Barker’s 1996 novel Sacrament (it would make a great movie), and suddenly excessive self advertising has become a pejorative. In an early novel, the massive fantasy Imajica (1991) (again, why isn’t this a movie yet?), Barker had developed the idea of “reconciliation,” where individuals and communities that have been living somewhat happily when separated cause unpredictable conflicts when technology (or magic) brings them back into ready contact. His idea does forecast what is happening with the Internet. His genius was communicating that the mechanics of radical cultural change extend way beyond the specific examples he may have learned from the GLBT communities.

It’s important to parse all of the concerns. Many things that are good are dangerous to immature people until they learn to use them properly. We don’t allow minors to drive cars until they are mature enough, and we should have a similar approach to their use of a global public space, the Internet. To their credit, sites like are developing terms of use and safety rules, including limiting use by outsiders who might exploit children. You can look at guidelines at this link. It is significant that these sites recommend that (minor) users not identify themselves, largely for security reasons. It is natural to wonder if this advice should apply to most working adults, too. That would all depend on what the adult does for a living (some jobs require a low profile outside of work), and what kind of dependents he or she has. In some cases, aggressive self-promotion is still the right course, given the competitive and global reach of our culture. Of course, there are major differences in practice distinguishing social networking, transaction oriented entrepreneurial business, and promotion of detailed content regarding social and political debate. Even so, with the latter, there are major potential concerns when that content is so tied to very personal experiences that can draw in other people.

We have seen a large number of problems associated with bad actors and crooks: spam, viruses and worms, scams, phishing, aggressive keylogging, using servers as zombies for DOS attacks or for conveying encrypted signs for criminal activity (steganography), illegal forms of pornography, and abuse of minors. NBC “Dateline” and the New York Times have recently run sensational reports on these issues, particularly with respect to chatrooms and the use of webcams by minors. These stories have been so disturbing as to convince some parents not to allow their kids to have their own profiles, websites or enter chatrooms at all.

You can see from all of this why there would be calls for increased regulation of individual users of the Internet as a public resource. I can imagine eventually the idea of requiring domain owners to be bonded. Already, some sources (like an early 2006 issue of Legal Affairs in an article “Without a Net” by Jonathan Zitrain) are examining the idea of licensing code and programmers (and maybe other content providers), not with government but with ISPs and various private associations, which might have partisan agendas to protect.

The Internet has provided enormous opportunities for a certain kind of person: introverted, content-oriented, preferring to set his or her own goals, resenting the idea of competing by rules set by others whom one perceives as stronger but corrupt. Such a person might be viewed as a coward who does not want to fight lie a man, or a real artist, visionary, or reservoir of intellectual objectivity. There is a natural tension between the ethical goals of accountability to others and intellectual honesty. But, unfortunately, many people who paid their dues the old fashioned way have their turf to protect.

Visit my essay on this problem. See also an earlier post in this blog. My blog on safer Internet practices is at

1 comment:

bloom1930 said...

I love Clive Barker books..for years "Imajica" was my favorite book..still is one of them, but I need to reread it.