Just today, I had entered into the debate about the personal image, perceptions and information on the internet. The debate started with the case, that I did not know beforehand. The gist was, that there was an applicant to Harvard, who was accepted. But then the Harvard retracted the acceptance, because of something that person posted in the private chat when they were 16 (I think?) years old. But then the backlash came, when people stopped giving Harvard donation. I don't know how the case ended, but this was how it was presented to me.
The argument behind that story was, that people can be ruined by what is posted about them on the internet. So it is better to be private. So that nobody can unearth any 40 years old pornographic movies. I don't agree with the point completely. But I did not research this specifically, so here are just some of my thoughts.
It is true, that we now have more information about other people, that we had most if not all of our evolutionary history. So we are not very adapted to this. For most of our evolutionary history, we spend a lot of time getting information about other people, because this was a valuable decision making tool and commodity. That is why gossip and things like that are so widespread. It is also why we don't want to be rejected by the people, we consider a part of our group. And this can again lead to some other anomalies. For example, in deliberating about a problem in a group, people are much more likely to share the information, that is already know to other members. And we also like people that share information that we already know more. So people are unlikely to share new information, even though the aggregation of all information leads to better decisions.
And this is not likely to change. Evolutionary speaking, we don't change that drastically that quickly. It is going to take quite a while. But I think culturally, the change might not be that slow. The reason, why information like that can have a drastic effect is because the people making decisions did not grow up with these technologies. And our memory is so, so, far from being reliable. The people on the highest positions right now no longer reliably remember, what they were like, when they were that age.
But the people growing up with these technologies will have a very different experience. They will be reminded again and again about the things that they did. So when they will be older, there will be a lot of people on the highest positions, that will have something embarrassing in their history, that they will know it was true. And I think this will allow them to be more open to dismiss the surfacing information about a person, if it does not pertain to what they know them for.
It is also true, that disagreeable people are more competitive. That means, that they will want to be in the higher positions in the society. And they are much less likely to take other people's considerations into account. I remember reading about a doctor, that figured out how to cure one of the children's caner with high mortality rate. What he was trying to do could be considered torture. We are talking about blood letting and having multiple needles stuck in them for hours. But for these children, he was also the only doctor, that tried to do something about it. And because of him, these days mortality for this cancer is minimal in the Western world.
Sure, these stories spreading on the internet could effect the type of patients that kind of doctor would get. A lot of parents would decide not to go to him. But I would prefer this kind of doctor for at least myself.
And this brings me to the next point. There are a lot of individual differences between people. I remember once reading a blog post about the different expectation of American and Europeans in the bar. How Europeans would complain, that the American waitresses were all smiley and they would constantly interrupt them. And the Americans would complain that waitress in Europe were mean and that they sometimes they had to wait 10-20 minutes for the waitress to get there. But there are a lot of differences inside the country as well. I know that I have problems working in a groups, that they can't handle the honest feedback. Because eventually something will bother me enough, that I will say it out loud.
But the one that get a much more attention recently is the political divide. The people on different ends of the political spectrum have different personality. The right wing are more ordered and industrious. The left wing more open. The people for political correctness are more agreeable. But they also don't read the same books, don't read the same news, they don't hang out with each other and so on. One fan fact that I read today in book Infotopia is, that blogs are a lot more likely to cite somebody that is on the same side of political spectrum.
If it would be easy to convince everybody in the same way, then there would be no point in niching oneself. The society would still benefit from people specializing, the people themselves maybe would not. Yet, it seems that people always want to put you in a box. If you make it easier to do it, they are much more likely to give you opportunities. Again, they are people, that act differently, because of individual differences.
But it is hard to not offend anybody. It also means, that some opportunities get closed when one specializes (though they open on the path of specialization). This can be clearly seen in how people in Slovenia take education. I always confuse them, because I work as a programmer, but I studied economics and cognitive science. It is even worse how some study programs are taken. If people can not think of a job, that these people could do with this knowledge, then the whole program is worthless. The professor of that subject does not count for them. But in my opinion, the education can be useful, even if the specific knowledge is never again used by this person. I act differently in the world, because I studied economics and cognitive science.
So we all make decision, that will allow people to make judgements about us. But apparently some information on the internet has a lot bigger effect than all of the other informations? That I somehow don't really believe. And I know, that people are irrational. I have studied economics, but I am also cognitive scientist. I know that there are informational cascades. I know that people have many, many biases. And I do believe, that for first impression all this information can have a huge effect. But because of the conformational bias, I don't believe, that it can have a huge effect once the person is already know personally.
I also find it a bit weird, that I would go research the people I know (not that weird), but I would then be influenced by what would I find (that I find weird). I mean, I had checked the personalities of a couple of people that I know, if I had enough text. The IBM gives the possibility to do this. But I have never changed my opinion based on that.
I mean, I remember my last interview for the job. I was asked about a couple of things, that could be found on the internet. My results of the mathematical tests in the primary school and my karate participation. And my GitHub account, but this one was not surprising at all, since it was a programming job. But this was because they did not know anything about me. I would feel very weird, if somebody that already knows my would have done the same thing.
I also don't think that being private is the best way to do this. There is a reason why the advice for correcting the online image is the way it is. The advice is, to bury the unflattering information with other information. So the way to make this information more prominent, is to have a lot more information about oneself on the internet. This can be simply achieved, if one has a lot of active social media accounts (which I don't) and their own website and then post on other websites with their real name. I guess the way to do it would also be to be a guest on lot of podcasts.
Also, here is where network comes into play. The information about a person is something that evolutionary is important. But it is even more important, if it comes for the person one knows.
On the end, public perceptions can also provide a pressure to confirm. Not to the society, but to the image, that they have of you. Somebody that has always been know about their opinion of something, it is quite hard to change it. For example, there was a group of people, where I was quite vocal about the importance of negative feedback. Something that I still believe in. But it would be harder for me to argue for the opposite, if I ever change my mind.
The only point to mention is, that people also differently define, what for them is private information. What would be something to keep private for one person, it would be something to share for another. Some people prefer sharing their thoughts, some what they did and some who they know. And I am sure I missed something. Also, for me my thoughts are a lot more intimate things to share than what happened to me. That is why there is a lot of my thinking, that I am not sharing. And the reason that I am not sharing what is happening to me is boredom. I don't live objectively interesting life. Not a lot of interesting things happen to me. So I don't say anything about it.
There are a lot of things, that I did not touch upon. The EU has a legal framework to remove references to information from the internet, if the information is outdated, misleading and could hurt a person, but it is not in public interest to be knows. Something is this direction. Privacy itself is also another topic, that I only touched upon, and could be greatly extended.
But on the end, hearing about a couple of stories does not mean, that this is something simple to try and solve, even on the personal level.