You may have heard the phrase ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ at some point in your life. The phrase refers to Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, which is also known as Sin City. The notion that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas means that you’re guaranteed anonymity by the city, its casinos and its workers. Whatever you get up to won’t be revealed to other people once you leave. You can do what you like (within reason) without consequences back home.
Obviously, if you lose all of your money or marry a hooker (as Homer and Ned did in an episode of The Simpsons), that might affect your life back home, but you get the idea.
The problem with this notion of anonymity is that some people believe it spills over into other walks of life, such as the internet. The title of this article, what happens online stays online, may sound similar to the Las Vegas motto, but its sentiments are the exact opposite. You see, when you post something online, you should be prepared to have everybody (and I mean everybody) see it. When something is posted online, it’s uploaded to the internet for the world to see. The content no longer remains yours, and you have no control over where it goes or how it is used.
The internet is not anonymous. The old saying goes ‘never post anything online you wouldn’t be prepared to have read back to you in a court of law’. This seems to be lost on a great many people.Never post anything online you wouldn’t be prepared to have read back to you in a court of law Click To Tweet
For example, one of the websites I run is a user generated content website where people post questions and complaints, and get advice from others. The nature of the website pits people with opposing views against each other, often leading to some quite heated comments. Naturally, not everyone who posts understands how the internet works, which led to an email from one person this week demanding the removal of his comments from the aforementioned website, complaining that he wasn’t made aware the website would be indexed by Google.
“In regards to google [sic] when I submitted my post you did not advise you would be using search providers and indexing this as such it is my data and I am asking politely at this stage to remove it.”
You’ll notice he says ‘submitted my post’ – this is the terminology he persisted in using in his correspondence even though he hasn’t actually ‘submitted a post’, he has commented on someone else’s post and been very offensive towards them. His comments were rude and ill thought out, and were made some six years ago. He has now realised his comments can be found in Google when a search is made for his name – something he didn’t think would happen when he made the comments.
This is the crux of the matter. When you post something online – whether it’s a blog post, a Facebook post, a post in a forum, a comment on a website, a photo, a tweet or whatever else it may be – you lose control of the media. Yes, in some cases you can delete the content you have posted. This will not stop it spreading however if it has already been shared. Even if you can delete the content from the website where it has been posted, it will have been indexed and scraped and possibly posted elsewhere by robots. It may also be on the Internet Archive (also known as the Way Back Machine).
In short, it’s out of your control.
We live in an internet world, a world described back in the 1990s as the ‘information superhighway’. While that phrase may seem incredibly dated, it is still accurate. When information hits the internet it is dispersed at a geometric rate, and mistakes made online cannot be undone. This is why some companies, including Engage Web, offer services such as online reputation management to bury search results which are less than favourable for someone’s name or business. The process is very time consuming, very difficult and very expensive. It’s much cheaper to not make the mistakes in the first place. That requires education and understanding of what you are doing and, while technology may be moving along at an alarming rate, the awareness of any implications of using that technology is not.
As with every situation in life, this can all be explained with an episode of The Simpsons. In a recent episode, Lisa Simpson developed an app that accurately predicted the implications of anything you posted online, causing the person to think again about whether or not they wanted to post it. The app, named ‘Conrad’, was voiced my Stephen Merchant and it saved people from the horrific consequences of sharing things they thought were a good idea at the time. Sadly, an app such as this doesn’t exist and people need to use their own judgement before posting online.
What happens in Vegas may well stay in Vegas, but what happens online stays online… forever.