Perhaps this series will never be concluded so long as the creative ways in which people use the Internet and the true impact of the information disseminated via the web continue to be revealed.
“Update: [Name Deleted] Wants to Pay Less” was the title of the post that caught my eye and compelled me to begin reading. After all, I’m naturally curious. I figured that the gentleman in question was probably a minor celebrity I had never heard about, but the blog owner was a fan. Next, I concluded that the post was probably about a celebrity divorce and Mr. [Name Deleted]’s soon-to-be ex-wife was seeking spousal or child support, most likely in a monthly amount that many Americans must live on for an entire year.
But as I read on, I realized the author was referring to her own son’s father. He apparently petitioned the court that has jurisdiction over custody and support issues, seeking to have the amount of his monthly child support payments lowered. The blog owner voiced her opinions on his legal maneuver in an extremely voracious and colorful manner.
The post immediately preceding that one was entitled “About a Boy . . . [Name Deleted] is Still a Deadbeat.” Therein, the author admitted her motivation for posting about what is inarguably a family matter:
The reason I keep making these posts by the way is because they show up on a Google search and since I leave the MySpace profile and blog open, anyone who is considering hiring [name deleted] or anything else can read all about him.
So naturally, I performed a Google search on the gentleman in question and, sure enough, her blog posts, including short quotes about him, were the first items indexed.
As I was reading, the evening news ran a report on Christie Brinkley’s divorce trial. She lobbied the court to keep the hearing on her custody dispute with Peter Cook open. This past Thursday, July 3, 2008, testimony was offered concerning Cook’s affairs with other women, fascination with Internet pornography, and relationship with their children. For instance, he testified, “My son told me: ‘Mommy’s looking at naked pictures of your girlfriends on the computer.'” Brinkley’s adult daughter by Billy Joel also testified about the manner in which Cook purportedly treated her.
The two situations involve very different families. One is a family of wealthy and privileged celebrity socialites, while the other, by all indications, is an average American household. But both families include young, impressionable children and, in both situations, the details about private family disputes are being permanently stored on Internet sites where that data will be accessible in perpetuity.
In both cases, there is a lot of mud being flung at the fathers of those young children. Truth? I hope, at least for the sake of the blogger in question, that the information being disseminated is completely accurate because if it is not, she has opened herself up to legal action. But is the revelation justified by its truth?
Many observers, including child psychologists, have gone on record with their concern about Ms. Brinkley’s legal strategy, pointing out that even the most amicable divorce has long-lasting effects on the children of the marriage. Legal experts question why, when seeking custody, she would willingly submit the sordid details of her private life to public scrutiny. She has stated publicly that she wants her children to know all the dirty details, leading to reports that Mr. Cook’s attorney plans to introduce the testimony of an expert psychologist about her motivation — revenge — and how it impacts her fitness to serve as the custodial parent.
As for the blogger, she writes that she just wants help raising her child from his biological father. As evidenced by the tenor of her posts, as well as the language and emphasis employed, her writing is motivated by anger. She inarguably recognizes the potential damage her posts could have on the gentleman’s future, including his ability to secure employment, writing that she doesn’t care that her action may interfere with “his chance at some job” because “him getting a job does not mean support for me. It just means more money for him because he doesn’t use any of it on his son . . .”
My purpose in writing here is not to judge either woman. Rather, I write for the sole purpose of asking whether or not their use of the Internet — in Ms. Brinkley’s case, she is using it indirectly by being the subject of various news stories that are reported on the web — is prudent. Internet content can be deleted, but the files remain stored and accessible for an unlimited foreseeable period of time. For instance, now that the various search engines have crawled that woman’s blog, her posts will remain visible in their cached format and can be introduced into evidence for a variety of purposes.
Even if the blogger does not care about her son’s father’s ability to secure employment, the posts could impact her own future job search, especially considering that she posted the information deliberately, with admitted knowledge of the potential harm they could cause her son’s father, not to mention the profane language employed therein.
And it is not just employers, of course, who utilize the Internet to perform background checks. Blogging or other use of the Internet can result in lost opportunities or memberships in organizations one later develops an interest in joining.
Every person who publishes information on the Internet — in any form on any topic — must be cautious and forward-thinking, asking him/herself before clicking “publish” or “post” whether the data being transmitted will have a long-term positive or negative effect on his/her future endeavors.
Additionally, as in the case of the blogger discussed above, it is critical to consider whether one’s own Internet activity will impact someone else. If posting sensitive information, especially in relationship to a dispute of any sort, it is imperative that data is verifiable and accurate. Posting false information about others which results in their suffering tangible harm can result in legal remedies being pursued from the person who caused the data to be published.
Parents, in particular, need to assess their own thoughts, feelings and motivations before publishing information about their child’s other parent, considering whether they want their child(ren) to read the details when they are old enough to access the Internet themselves. Additionally, when children inevitably ask “Why did you publish that?” parents need to have a cogent, convincing response ready or risk harming their own relationship with their child(ren).
The bottom line inquiry is, it seems to me, quite simple. Every blogger must anticipate and be prepared to take responsibility for his/her online activities and accept the consequences associated with his/her use of the Internet.
I wonder if the blogger in question did that or if she will later regret posting the details about her legal battles with and feelings about her son’s father. And I wonder if Ms. Brinkley will ultimately curse the day she decided to ask the court to hold an open hearing, thereby making the media privy to the salacious details of her life with her ex-husband, all of which are now published on thousands of websites.
Only time will tell.