There are no secrets on the internet. Really.
Some high school students in Minnesota learned this the hard way when some photographs of a party were posted on the social networking website Facebook.com. The problem isn’t that there was a party, it’s that the students were depicted drinking alcohol, which is against the school’s policy and the administrators saw the photographs. More than 100 students were spoken to in connection with the party photos; 42 were officially questioned, and 13 were disciplined. You can read a newspaper report on that here and follow-up here (found via ypulse).
What surprises me is not that students drank at a party, even though they were underage. I’m not excited about that, but I realize it happens and I’m not shocked by it. What does surprise me is that they didn’t consider Facebook a public place when they shared their pictures there. The invincibility of youth didn’t allow them to consider they might get in trouble for their partying pics; they knew they were violating the school commitment and the drinking law. They just weren’t thinking that they’d get caught.
It’s a great fallacy of our technological age that you can be anonymous on the internet. Every website you visit knows something about you, and the more you interact there, the more information is known. Websites can even track where else you’ve been, how you got to the site and where you went when you left. Search engines can turn up vast amounts of information about you if you’ve had anything published in print, on a website, in an organizational or institutional directory, and any number of other places on the web, a search of your name will return that information. That’s with a minimum of effort.
As I taught my children, and the students in the ministries I served, your character and all you stand for is at stake on the internet and everywhere else you go. The world wide web is super-connected! Your integrity depends upon you being consistent in life – in today’s age, that means on and off the internet. Your prospective college, your future employers, your teachers and administrators, and even your parents, have access to all the information about you on the web. Will they find the you they see in person? Will your integrity be in tact when they read what the search engines give back?
Integrity is best described by who you are when no one is looking.