Networked Publics

Given the increased use of people’s online presence for vetting by potential employers and, indeed, out of a sense of self respect, I would always be conscious of the type of content I am putting online. A study in 2010 found that more than half of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates: . While I am, age-wise, beyond desiring to impress my peers by saying or doing something idiotic and posting it online, I have seen enough material of a dubious nature on the internet to feel that perhaps some people are going to have major difficulties presenting a respectable image to a potential employer, or indeed spouse, in the years to come. However, I also feel that what is expected of people and what might be considered ‘normal’ behaviour is changing rapidly and it could be the case in years to come that someone who doesn’t have a photographic history of their drunken excesses might be regarded with suspicion as having something to hide. The expected standard of behaviour of women in particular has changed dramatically in recent years and for some reason what were once the worst excesses of a certain section of the male population seem to have become something to aspire to for a lot of women. Young women in particular seem to feel the need to talk online about drinking and being drunk far more than young men do. This has obvious implications for their future employment prospects with innovations such as Facebook’s ‘Timeline’ recording and retaining their comments and photographs perhaps for many years into the future. But, as I mentioned above, this may just come to be regarded as normal behaviour and potential employers may want ‘normal’ employees.

I feel the implications for Digital Natives, who have grown up with a strong online social element to their lives, are both positive and negative. There is an absence of formality and structure to online media that some might regard as liberating, but I wonder how easy it is to switch back and forth between projecting an anarchistic disregard for spelling or, indeed, many of the norms of acceptable behaviour in the offline world, and the non-internet complex physical world where anarchism just doesn’t work. On the positive side people who don’t live their lives to excess or pretend to do so may be rewarded with better employment and social prospects and the all-seeing eye of the world wide web may become a moderating influence in people’s behaviour as people come to realise its implications and feel less of a need to perform and just start being themselves online. In historical terms the internet and social media are still novel innovations and when the novelty wears off people’s behaviour on what is effectively a world stage may change.

Online deviance can come in many forms from the relatively harmless to dangerous and destructive behaviour that can result in loss of life or involvement in criminal activity. While the internet has facilitated deviant activity by giving deviants a means of contacting others with similar interests, it has also become a means by which deviancy can be tracked and monitored if it is of a criminal nature. In truth deviancy seems to always have been a feature of human nature and the internet, like all social forums, reflects the diversity of humanity for better or worse. However, deviance is not always negative in character and people who deviate from the norm of acceptable behaviour in oppressive or tyrannical societies have both the advantage of a platform to express their deviancy and the disadvantage of a means by which that deviancy can be tracked and monitored. It could be argued that the internet is good or bad only in as much as people use it for good or bad ends and ultimately it reflects human nature in all its aspects.

‘Moral panics’ centred around internet use have tended to be about sexual predators having access to potential victims, particularly children. Expressions of concern about the proliferation of pornography on the internet and its free availability to all internet users, including minors, might be regarded as a moral panic or it might be regarded as a genuine and well-founded concern that pornography has a damaging effect on society as a whole and rights of personal choice need to be balanced against the greater good. In Britain Conservative MP Claire Perry has been campaigning for an ‘opt-in’ approach to pornography on the internet, where internet providers would block pornographic content unless a customer opted in to allowing it . The issue of what constitutes pornography is then raised and the application of a broad societal morality comes into conflict with secular notions of the individual as ultimate arbiter of personal morality. It could be argued that all societies require regulation and the early ‘wild west’ years of the world wide web will ultimately give way to the realisation that in complex societies anarchy just doesn’t work. Others might disagree.

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