This post was published back in 2008. It may not function as originally intended or may be missing images.
What Will the Web See When You Die?
A few weeks ago, High Society, a ski/snowboard company I've worked with over the years suffered a hard loss: we lost one of our team riders to a cliff drop that went tragically wrong.
Out of respect for his family, I will not be mentioning his real name here because I don't want this post to appear in the search results for his name. For the sake of the article I'm referring to him by the name 'Tim'.
During the resulting media coverage I noticed a trend that caught my attention.
The day after his death, the opening sentence of an article from the Rocky Mountain News read:
"Aspen native and snowboarder [Tim} liked spinners, bonks and card tricks, according to one of his sponsors' Web sites."
That website was ours. And that line 'spinners, bonks, and card tricks' was taken off of his profile page, which was the first page you'd find after Googling his name.
But here's the thing. There was a lot more to Tim than 'spinners and bonks'. He was a well respected rider and someone who had accomplished great things in his short life. But you would not know this from the article.
It struck me that journalists are turning more and more to the web and social networks to dig up information about people for their stories. It's obvious that the author simply Google'd Tim's name and took out the first bit of information he could find, no matter how trivial.
If you recall the Elliot Spitzer scandal, you may remember the same thing happened in that instance as well. When the identity of Spitzer's lady friend was discovered, media organizations were quoting her Myspace page and printing photos straight out of her profile.
Now, is that really fair? Or more importantly, is that really journalism? It seems that more journalists, in the effort to be the first to the press, are skipping the interviews of friends and families and turning more to finding out what they can on the web.
The reason I ask if it's fair: How many of you would like to have your legacy defined by what's in your Facebook profile? Take a look at the image on the right. It's an excerpt from my Facebook profile. Like most of my friends profiles, it's not exactly on the serious side.
I would hate to think that if I passed away tomorrow that the world would know me by:
"Minneapolis resident and programmer, Nate Weiner liked Rickrolling himself..."
And Tim's profile on the High Society website? It wasn't serious. It didn't mention the things that really defined him. None of the items that were listed there did his legacy any justice.
But why should it? Should we be worried that if we put up a joke that others will take that as our character definition? Or should we expect journalists to be more conscious of the type of content they are sourcing from?
If this is going to be the way it is, should we avoid joking around and keep our content strict?
I would certainly hope not, but it begs the question, if people were to write about you today and used to the web to research you, what would they find? And more importantly, would you want others to read it?