11 Mar 2011

Google Me, Google You! (Part 3)

The situation can slip out of control when you start poking your nose into the dark areas of cyberspace, and that's when we need to exert caution. Copyright may not be the ultimate physical protection against plagiarism or duplication etc. but it does give the copyright holder the appropriate jurisdiction to help them ensure their intellectual property is protected to a degree (depending on the type of copyright).



So here's a word of advice in passing: make sure that your work is copyrighted, if only by just mentioning it clearly on your site. This gives you that legal power of action against copyright infringers, although legal action is an expensive, time-consuming and convoluted process (as perpetrators are often difficult to trace and prosecute, and in some cases material ownership may be difficult to prove).

Likewise if you 'borrow' material from third parties in order to illustrate your blog (I do!), act fairly and lead by example, mention your sources clearly and link back. Be prepared for some image owners to ask you to remove their material from your site; chance is they will have a good reason for it. Some fellow bloggers or sites may require that you contact them prior to using their material. Send them a quick email, if only to cover yourself and abide by web etiquette, even if you don't get a reply back. Some sites (ex: The Sartorialist) are explicitly clear about the fact that you are strictly not allowed to use their material without their express permission.



Certain online image libraries make allowances towards non-commercial sites (including blogs) to be able to use their photographic stock under certain conditions, while commercial sites are required to purchase a licence. Fair enough. Meanwhile some photographer websites will be much more restrictive, but then again try to see it from their perspective. In the face of all these restrictions, the best option is definitely to use your own material.

Now there is a real risk about divulging too much information about oneself. Teens are naturally prone to it, and it is up to us adults to warn them against the potential consequences of such actions: peer pressure, bullying, stalking, wrong crowds, racketeering etc. A young girl I knew from way back had that Bebo page she used as a real-time diary of boyfriends, love interests, love secrets, unrequited love feelings, romantic mood effusions, all set against a collection of hearts, teddies and roses. It was naive and girly, yet at the same time verging on the scary and the outright neurotic to any outsider exposed to such an open invitation to voyeurism - as indeed this was a public page (whose very existence I'm not even sure her parents were aware of).

All mapped out by XKCD! Click image for high res view

It's one thing telling the world you are My Chemical Romance's biggest fan, or you fancy Pete Wentz. It's quite another to pour your heart out to all and sundry, with very personal information thrown into the mix that can potentially expose you as an easy prey. If you feel the urge to write, gals (or guys!), it may be best to keep a good old-fashioned paper diary with a lock, for those very private confidences. And remember those deleted webpages can still come up on searches long after having been deleted at source. Next time think twice before getting carried away on the keyboard.

Adults too may be guilty of too much information free-for-all. I personally know someone who uses and abuses social media platforms, and if that wasn't enough she also has her own personal website (with professional career to date - including CV, hobbies, friendships, fave things, little quirks, social diary etc.). This sort of self-promoting fan-club combo is scary. I'd be inclined to believe that this over-exposure may indicate a sign of insecurity and a need for self-justification and acceptance. Too much exposure exposes you to vulnerability, jealousy, envy and is a safety risk as it opens a Pandora's box of issues that may well be more than you asked for, jeopardise your privacy and overwhelm you. I'm not warning against talking to your heart's content (I'm doing it right now!), but make sure that personal information is kept to the strictest minimum. Better safe than sorry...


Social Media Charts from Avi Savar


Certain snippets of information are best kept under wraps, like your date of birth, bank details (D'oh!), financial status, trade secrets, business disclosures, marital and extra-marital exposés, detailed social diary, slander and malicious gossip. If washing their dirty laundry in public was damaging to Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Katie Price, Kerry Katona and others in the media spotlight despite their PR team working remarkably well to salvage their reputations, think of what this would do to the rest of us, albeit not in the public eye in the same way, yet unable to afford the expertise of a PR or legal team close-by. Prevention is better than cure. Let's remain reasonable when unleashed on the web and teased by the temptation to throw caution to the wind, and let's do ourselves a big favour by being protective of our privacy. In doing just that we will save face and keep both mystique and respect as intact as could be.

Phew, what a journey this has been and we've almost been through an identity crisis in the process! We are now hopefully ready to approach social media platforms less light-heartedly and more safely. Just remember: your favourite online search engine may help you be nosey enough to unravel things you didn't know about yourself, and find out about present or past friends and relatives. Keep a blog and even start writing another. Go on The Social Network and wherever tickles your fancy. It's all meant to be fun, we're told, although as we have demonstrated, it might not necessarily be good fun once we dig deeper, so play your cards right and be your best PR team. Information control equals damage limitation.

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