There are many, many days when I feel like I have more of a life online than I do in the real world. I have friends, colleagues, and coworkers that I’ve never met IRL. With the majority of them I have a healthy relationship. There are the ones I hear from all the time, the ones who check in and remember details that are just amazing, and the ones who you pass by on email and go–right, you, we have to swap bad work/interview/date stories again sometime!!

Not all relationships are healthy, though, and I am continually amazed by the people who put themselves into the online world and then start to create a negative persona. This has been a recurring problem that I’ve noticed on the list serves wherein I participate. Everyone has a bad/cranky day and those vents are generally taken at face value, dismissed as soon as we read another email. However, among the professionals there tends to be an understood law of civility–for most of us. The exceptions always make my blood pressure rise. Deliberately inflammatory posts, derogative, mean, and often without much background information…..

I’ll admit it–if you interest me, I might Ask or Yahoo! you. If you annoy me–it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll run a search on you to see what turns up. One point that always makes me fail to take someone seriously–if I can’t find a trail. If you don’t appear to have existed online until last week (literally a problem I encountered with two provocateurs), how am I to know that you’re not using a false identity? Shouldn’t you exist…somewhere? Another point is when I find someone who just seems to complain on a VARIETY of list serves that are publicly archived. Then the person looks globally whiny–not just on my list.

The other point that bothers me–people who think their online reputation won’t carry into the workplace, interviews, etc etc etc. Particularly in the small profession of library science, where we do all know each other, people network and remember. An insult or slur goes much further online than it can in person because now there’s an archive of it. In the past six months I’ve heard only too often a chorus of “me expressing my negative opinion means I get picked on…” and other such woeful verses. I understand the frustration (often about job availability) but not the tone. Do you think I won’t remember when you insult a librarian younger or older than you? Do you think I won’t remember when you verbally attacked another person? Do you think your name won’t trigger a warning bell if I ever see your resume? I think of it less as personal bias than professional preservation.

Said provocateurs are, of course, always just using their own right to freedom of speech. Yet they always seem incredibly affronted when others suggest that these very negative online manners might not assist their career paths. They seem to hold an assumption that “anything goes” online and that employers can’t hold snotty online remarks against a candidate. I even heard an argument that we (the rest of the list readers) shouldn’t judge anyone by their online presence but only by their printed resume. Only—what if I find your resume online? Does it not count because it’s not a printed piece of paper? If you email it to me–isn’t your cover letter then also online remarks? Should I discount that also?

We exist in an online world as much as we do in our physical one and our presence is as important if not more so here.

We now return to the real world so I can pay attention to the incredibly cute, “always ignored,” pathetic cat who just crawled into my lap and started purring.