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  • The Social Network

    by Mike Coffey

    A few years back, a high school football player made an official visit to Notre Dame during his senior year.  He participated in all the usual events, met with various coaches, saw the campus inside and out.  He departed campus at the end still a candidate for a Notre Dame scholarship.

    His father accompanied the young man on his weekend journey.  Upon his arrival home, he thought the ND fans he had among his friends would be interested in seeing an official visit from the “other side”.  So he put together an email to a group of his buddies talking about what had gone on during the visit weekend.  Included in that synopsis were opinions about things the coaching staff had or had not done, some of them very unfavorable.

    His friends certainly enjoyed the email.  But some of his ND friends had the same reaction the author had — my ND friends probably would find this interesting.  So unbeknownst to dear old dad, at least one of those friends forwarded the email to his own list of ND emailers.  At least one of them carried the idea forward, and the email got passed around the electronic ether until the sets of email recipients and NDNation posters finally (inevitably?) intersected, and the email itself was posted on Rock’s House.

    Within a few hours, we got a frantic email from the recruit’s dad, begging us to remove the content and asking us how he could remove it from general circulation.  We were happy to accommodate him on the former, but on the latter, we were powerless.  The dad had fallen victim to the oldest of Internet adages:

    If you’re saying it to one person, you’re saying it to the world, so be careful what you say

    These were the days before sites like Facebook and Twitter, so what used to apply to emails applies a million times more today.  Just as you have no control over what someone you email forwards, you also have no control over what your friends “share” or “re-tweet”, or even copy-and-paste.  You may think you’re only addressing a dozen, but that can become a dozen dozen before you can blink.  Data moves fast in the electronic age.

    Of course, this is nothing new to NDN.  We were dealing with this issue long before Mark Zuckerberg had his programming epiphany.  But we’re really no closer to the answer than we were 12 years ago when we started.

    The topic came up recently on the Pit, when one poster took another to task about an alleged tweet he’d made regarding a poor performance by an ND men’s basketball player.  In the resulting discussion, some posts on some of the boards were pointed out to me as being unnecessarily critical.  After reading them, I agreed they were inappropriate for the forum in which they were made.  The posts were removed, and (in some cases) the posters disciplined.

    But I did those things with a twinge of regret.  While I didn’t want the posts made on NDN, the content really didn’t differ a lot from what people sitting around me at the game in question were saying to their seatmates.  While there was no doubt the player in question was giving a good effort, he didn’t have a good game.  How do you talk about that without crossing the line?  Why is it all right to say something to the guy next to you at the bar, but not all right to say the same thing to him in an email the next day?  If you’re willing to say to someone’s face what you say about him or her on the Internet, should it really be censored?

    None of those questions are easy to answer after more than a decade of trying.  I’m philosophically a free-market guy, and I believe our communities, in general, have become pretty good at self-regulating their content.  Having said that, though, sometimes stuff can hang out there while it’s being self-regulated.  I’m also not unaware that the families and friends of ND-related figures can and do read the site and can and are sometimes hurt by what they read.

    So where do you draw the line?

    I think people need to remember when you say something on the Internet, it’s going to be out there pretty much forever.  Emails can be printed off and saved.  Search engines can grab post content.  Tweets and status updates don’t necessarily go away.  The opinion you express today may not be your opinion tomorrow, but don’t tell that to the T1 lines and servers because they’re going to hold you to what you said for a long long time.

    Remember that when you sit at your keyboard.

    9 Responses to “The Social Network”

    1. I am,
      1.A major database owner
      2. the Compliance Officer for the Irish Direct marketing Association.
      3 Considered an authority on Data Protection..but most importantly.
      4.A grandfather of 4 teenagers..

      Facebook,twitter,Google as it expands, simply scare the hell out of me.

      I am also a dedicated free market person (and a died in the wool capitalist)

      Having read your article I am very interested in what the whole internet/blogging/privacy thing will look like in 2020(a year made famous in a song)

      • Actually the song is “In the Year 2525″. I believe the NCAA is going to have to relax some of its outdated recruiting rules. This is a different age. People are much more interested in recruiting and have much quicker access than they did in the days of Joe Terranova and Max Emfinger. In the 1970s you had to be a true recruiting afficienado to know who signed with who and even who the best players in the country were. I hope this doesnt hurt the kid’s chances at ND and Eifert should have known better as a 5th year senior.

    2. mr nobody says:

      Generally a person will be more selective about what he says and who he says it to in a bar.

    3. Giggity_Giggity says:

      Be critical of the plays, not the players. The players are ND guys/gals and deserve respect for the work they put in regardless of outcome. Be clinical, not emotional.

      Secondly, think about whether you’d say something to a man’s (or woman’s) face before you hit the post button. If the odds are good you’ll be punched in the face, take some heat off that fastball.

      Follow these two simple rules and you too can be awesome like me.

      • Giggity-Giggity – mind if I call you GG? Fine.

        Better idea – Your awesomeness

        The safety/anonymity of cyberspace has been empowering for many cowards and in my opinion (FYI – I am an awesome [certified] old fart) we are much poorer for that.

        In case anyone missed it, the above was posted in entirely good humor, no insults intended of any description.

        Have a good day.

    4. The song is “In the Year 2525″. I’m old enough to remember it.

      Facebook, twitter, google, whatever scare the hell out of me too – privacy will become a thing of the past if it hasn’t already.

      I have internet and a cellphone and that’s it.

    5. Don in LA says:

      Giggity has it just about right….

      Just don’t say ugly, personal, insensitive things. Period. Don’t say them in a bar. Don’t say them in a post. These kids are kids for god’s sake. If you’re a grown adult and you have time to personally attack young people who are doing their best, you need to look in the mirror.

      Football, basketball, hockey…whatever. It’s a game.

    6. Quote: “Generally a person will be more selective about what he says and who he says it to in a bar.”

      Well, at least until that third beer.

    7. Social networking, as a means of distribution, has pros and cons just like any other form of communication. If you are someone who lacks emotional intelligence, situational awareness, control etc., sites like Facebook, Twitter etc. will simply accelerate your downfall. So indeed, beware. Anonymous postings are a whole other matter. And that’s why many sites have/are going to Facebook-linked comments so that there is no more anonymity. You want to say some vile, racist, horrid thing? Fine, but it will be attached to your social networking account for all to see.

      Every generation has its challenges. For parents of young generations (like me), instantaneous data sharing and social networking are significant challenges. Fight the good fight.

      Go Irish

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