- Our Netiquette columnists answer readers' questions about Googling dilemmas
- Knowing when to stop and how to respond to a search can be tricky
- Google yourself regularly to distinguish bad rumors from you or your name-twin
Last week, we laid out some ground rules for using The Google to see what the Internet's saying about your co-workers, your love interest and yourself. And as soon as the column went live, the reader feedback started pouring in.
Hey, Googling is a quotidian skill these days: The "Sex and the City" writers made a joke of it almost eight years ago when Carrie looked up her Russian boyfriend "on Google-dot-com," and there's even a snotty website you can send when a knuckle-dragger asks you a question instead of looking it up himself: Let Me Google That For You.
So it's kinda surprising that it's still at the center of an amorphous cloud of confusion and questions.
But, dear readers, you brought up some nuanced points we couldn't elucidate in last week's column. Allow us to attempt to clear up some of that fog.
The Lesson: Once you've dug up some dirt, you can't cover it up again.
"When I started my current job, it was just months after someone I knew was convicted of sexually molesting a child. ... It left me with a really unforgiving attitude about those convicted of sex crimes against children. In the course of my work, I was demonstrating something to my co-worker and randomly selected a co-worker to Google. Lo and behold, the man had similar charges (and a guilty verdict) a dozen years ago, just before coming to work here. I immediately swore the other co-worker to secrecy, having NO IDEA this was even a possibility when entering the name. Unfortunately, the man I searched is my immediate supervisor, and it makes me kind of sick to have to deal with him daily. The job is great, the pay is good, but I just wish he'd hurry up and retire. I can't ask to be transferred, as even asking would spread this information further.
Unfortunately, some things you can't just "un-know" when knowing is inconvenient."
Whoa, heavy. We're sorry for all the bad happenings, but you bring up an important point: You can't return to blissful ignorance after you've searched for someone. In this case, if you're sure you don't want to talk to a higher-up about transferring (if it was that easy to find in Google, they likely already know), it's probably best to focus on remaining professional around this man.
We humans are funny creatures: We're unhappier waiting for test results than hearing a definitive cancer diagnosis. We like to know. Your search for your co-worker was random and innocent, but sometimes we do tumble, "Alice in Wonderland"-style, into Google rabbit holes that we don't need to conduct. Like a dog rubbing its injured paw into the ground, we get buzzed on pain as we search for ex-significant others, say, or find out more and more about a tragic 12-car pileup a few miles away.
So -- cue that guitar-strumming learning-moment music in the excellent '90s television show Step by Step -- if netiquette is all about being nice to people while you're using the Interwebs, that should include being nice to yourself. Know when to pause, X out, and busy yourself with those IRL friends. Remember them? Nice folks.
The Lesson: Googling shines a spotlight on what others think about the search term.
"THE ONLY ISSUE ANYONE WOULD HAVE WITH THIS ARTICLE WOULD BE THE FAILURE TO NOTE THAT ANYTHING WRITTEN ON THE INTERNET, OR WORLD WIDE WEB, IS THE PRODUCT OF SOME PERSON'S INPUT INTO A COMPUTER OF THAT DATA. THE DATA MAY NEVER HAVE BEEN PUT INTO THE COMPUTER BY THE PERSON WHO IS THE SUBJECT OF THE SEARCH, AND THERE MAY VERY WELL BE NO MEANINGFUL WAY TO ELIMINATE, MITIGATE, CORRECT, OR AMEND INTERNET GOSSIP, RUMOR, SPECULATION, AND HEARSAY. GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. "
FIRST OFF, I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU ARE SHOUTING. SHOUTING TO TWO NETIQUETTE COLUMNISTS SEEMS LIKE AN EGREGIOUS BREACH IN MANNERS. BUT REALLY, YOU ARE TOO KIND, THINKING THIS IS THE ABSOLUTE ONLY ISSUE ANYONE WOULD HAVE WITH OUR ARTICLE.
Anyway, you raise a valid (if obvious) point: Much of the stuff that pops up when you Google someone wasn't put there by said someone. But, as we've written about on this very canvas, you can proactively deal with online haters and take charge of your online reputation.
That's why you need to be Googling yourself regularly -- so you know what your new boss, new friends and new beau will see when they type in your name. And then when you find out you have a name in common with a cross-country track star/American Girl doll/fugitive on "America's Most Wanted," you can write a charming blog post distinguishing yourself from your name-twin.
The Lesson: Admitting to your date that you've Googled him is tricky business.
"I was on a second or third date with a guy who was quite a bit older than me. I asked him his age but he wouldn't tell me. Later I looked him up on a public records site and found it. The next date I told him I had found his age online in what I thought was a playful manner. The relationship didn't last because as it turned out he had a girlfriend in another country for years with whom he has been discussing a serious future, and months later during an argument he told me that my Googling him had really turned him off and included it in a "want to know how to win a guy?" e-mail.
So, was I a creep for searching for his age online, or just telling him about it, or both? His age had no bearing on my feelings for him. ... I was just curious to know it."
First off, we can answer this question very cleanly: This guy was the creep, and was grasping at straws to find a way to make you feel bad.
He wouldn't tell you his age, had a secret relationship and wrote you a nasty e-mail telling you how to win a guy? Major loser, and you have nothing to worry about in the creepiness department. (Unless you made him a scrapbook from everything you uncovered in your public records search. In that case, yeahhh...)
But this does bring up a larger point: Discussing Internet searches during the dance of courtship is kind of a Goldilocks sport -- in an eerily parallel situation, we've had a first date (met on a dating site) refuse to share his age when it came up in conversation, blithely bleating, "I mean it's on my profile, I don't see why I need to say it again." (He was 32, too old for such nonsense.) That's too little info.
We had another first date reveal that he'd clicked through something like 11 pages of Google results ("So, I see you were runner-up in the state spelling bee as an eighth-grader"). Too much.
The just right approach is somewhere between keeping your mouth totally shut (let him reveal his penchant for photographing pensive-looking pigeons on his own schedule) or, after a few dates, bringing up something that's on the first page of results ("Not to be creepy but I creepily Googled you the other night -- I had no idea you wrote that book on pigeons as pets! I'm a birder myself.")
Hey, everyone loves flattery. Just make sure you're not getting dirt on an unrelated author with the same name. Because a love of pigeons could be a real turn-off.