By now probably everyone of us has read the story of Alexandra Wallace, a UCLA student and bikini model. She went on Youtube ranting about how Asian* students at UCLA keep on talking in the library and bring to USA everyone from the family–siblings, parents, grandparents, who later visit these students over the weekends to do laundry and grocery shopping, etc. At one point Alexandra mimics the East Asian accent and speaks gibberish. You can read more about this story here.
There have been two types of reactions to this story. The first is about the limits to free speech. The second is about how clueless people leave their digital footprints behind. I am going to focus on the second reaction. The NY Times article mentioned above quotes a USC prof, Robert Hernandez, who cautions about this exact same thing.
The last week we had Manoj Khandekar, a Chicago-based patent attorney, as a guest speaker. He discussed the same type of issues while dealing with social media. He told us that until recently Facebook users were giving the social network the copyright/ownership to their photographs! This means that even when you delete your Fb account, all the data still remains with Facebook, which they can use the way they want. It also means that everything is permanent on the Internet. Alexandra Wallace removed the Youtube video once it went viral. But it is now available from so many people that it doesn’t matter who owns the original video!
The only way to avoid this problem is by not posting anything that may be even slightly offensive to others. It is difficult to decide, however, what can be offensive to others. In this post I am suggesting a very simple criterion. Ask this question to yourself –“If I were an employer who gets 100 job applications everyday, will I hire this person?”
How will asking this question change anything? Note that job market (labor market) is full of information asymmetry between the employer and the potential employee. Employers don’t know the true quality of the person they are considering for the job. To avoid what economists call “adverse selection,” the employers are very stringent about the criteria they use to filter people. For example, they may need high GPA, good qualification, work experience, etc. My thesis here is that by simply putting yourself into a recruiter’s shoes can actually make you risk averse and cautious (psychologists call this priming)! It is not so much about actually recruiting anyone. But it is likely to change your attitude temporarily, just long enough to make this decision. This will help you in avoiding any action that may affect your future.
* In the USA “Asians” means “East Asians.” In reality though, Asia consists of more than 50 countries which include India, Sri lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi among others.