Seth Godin writes in his blog today about “Digital Hygiene”. As usual he points out something perfectly commonsensical that we should all know and pay attention to. Digital hygiene is the practice of managing your online information, staying creative, and keeping your level of irritation in check. In other words, modern rules for the playground.
I’ve made a prezi on the up-front risks and irritations you will encounter while you are communicating in the blogosphere. These are; misinformation, syndication, plagiarism, hacking, trolls, legislation and algorithms. Here is my list of tactics on how to manage these and maintain your Digital Hygiene at the same time. Before you go haring off to publish your stuff on social media sites and websites, take note of these problems and what to do about them. The Internet is useful and it works, and it is a cost-effective communication channel, but the people behind the sites are sometimes the sort that Have Innocents For Dinner (With Some Fava Beans And A Light Chianti.)
Misinformation – People (anywhere in the world) take your information and re-use it, often cutting and shortening it or contextualizing it until it is bad or wrong, or translating it horribly.
Remedy for Digital Hygiene: Keep your original source documents on file, and maintain a record of references and attributed information. At least keep your own nose clean. If push comes to shove, you’ll be able to prove in court that you are the originator and therefore the owner of the information. In terms of avoiding misinformation from other sources, remember that the responsibility is on you, the educated (mildly skeptical and questioning) user, to consult multiple sources of information and do your own research. No source is infallible, not even Wikipedia, and all information is only as good as its source. So check the credentials of the person whose information you are using.
Syndication & plagiarism – If you make it possible to find your information on the Internet, in other words, if you tag it, re-post it on multiple social media sites, or use search engine optimization, then your information will be spread around the world via search engines, news portals, or aggregators. “Aggregator” refers to a web site or computer software that aggregates a specific type of information from multiple online sources, for instance, data, news or videos. If you get your company news into one publication, syndication, meaning the resale or licensing of news to other publications, or spread of news amongst publications in the same stable, will happen – and soon you will see your original write-up under other people and company’s names.
Remedy for Digital Hygiene: Make your all your settings, without exception, private for all your on-line information. Don’t make the settings for your blog so that that people can comment. Or, accept that copying will occur and see it as a form of flattery and enhancement of your online footprint. Or, just don’t look.
Hacking & trolls – Trolls are bad people and you must not respond to them. A “troll” is not the big Norwegian monster, it is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers.
In my post, Death of a mentor and the right to be forgotten, I wrote about how hard it is to erase yourself or something damaging from the internet. In a textbook case of Right to be Forgotten Fail, the owners of Amy’s Baking Company, who had had a bad show in Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares TV series, found themselves even worse off than before the episode had aired. They might’ve thought that they would get some promotion (or help) for their restaurant. In stead, they unleashed a storm of haters, trolls and critics on the Internet. In stead of letting it go and waiting for the storm to pass, they commented right back in worse language than even their critics could muster. Result: a world of trouble and the Streisand Effect in full force.
Remedy for Digital Hygiene: Trolls being what they are, Godin advises that you should just ignore those messages and comments. Do not get into an online exchange of words. It’s ugly and pointless. You do not want to be humiliated, like the owners of Amy’s Baking Company. As for hacking, it is simply good Digital Hygiene to regularly change your passwords for all your Internet activities – and find some way to keep your passwords safe. Hackers exploit poor security or system weaknesses such as non-standard widgets (a widget being any small application that performs one specific task in a larger program, often as a plug-in.) Your platform host or internet service provider can only do so much.
Changing your password is the first thing you do when your web designer hands over your site to you.
Legislation – Each country has its own that pertains to on-line publication. Watch out that while you rant at others that break the law, you don’t break the law yourself.
Remedy for Digital Hygiene: In Canada, you have to be aware of how copyright and anti-spam legislation works. If in doubt whether you’re in the right, ask a lawyer. It’s worth the money.
Algorithms – The reason Google works works so well as a search engine (refer the Wikipedia entry to explain how it works), is partly because it has a search algorithm that automatically ranks pages that are accessed more, and gives them back to you at the top of the search list. Which means that, the more information gets used, the more it gets used. So the more you access specific pages, the more you will get those pages when you search. It’s kind of self-perpetuating. But like a narrowing field of vision, you will have to scroll through page after page of entries to get to see the random, unrelated, unpopular stuff.
This also counts for other search engines, for instance when you search for hotels or airline tickets. (Or do electronic trading on the stock market where institutional “execution algorithms” are used – as some researchers allege.)
This highly effective search engine is called PageRank and is an algorithm used by Google Search to rank websites in their search engine results and measure the importance of website pages. According to Google: “PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is.
The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.” It is not the only algorithm used by Google to order search engine results, but it is the first algorithm that was used by the company, and it is the best-known. By now the company probably has many more fiendishly clever algorithms to make your information accessible throughout the world.
Remedy for Digital Hygiene: I don’t like have my information pre-selected and prioritized, so I have made my search settings so that they are not stored, or tracked, and I regularly delete my search history, including my “frequently accessed sites”. And I take the time to look beyond the lists on page 1, 2 or 3. Or, I use Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” option.
Seth Godin’s other hints for Digital Hygiene
- Turn off mail and social media alerts on your phone.
- Don’t read the comments. Not on your posts or on the posts of other people. Not the reviews and not the trolls.
- De-escalate the anger in every email exchange.
- Put your phone in the glove compartment while driving.
- Spend the most creative hour of your day creating, not responding.