Thinking about publicly divulging your earlier dabblings in satanic rituals? Or considering an ironic, fringe title for an article in your college newspaper? Take a lesson from the Delaware Senate race. Everything you say or do in the public sphere can and will find its way to the Web's megaphone. And it can bite you.
Mental anguish lawsuit, masturbation, witchcraft -- these aren't terms often aligned with trust, esteem or politics. We all know that the little red flags that appear in search results can go a long way in forming our judgments, regardless of whether those flags are grounded in reality. Search for your local doctor and "quack" or "addict" comes up; alarm ensues. Check out a potential employee online and you find a rant-filled blog or juvenile pictures, you'll do more than just raise an eyebrow. Likely, you'll place them in the reject pile.
This week's side-by-side comparison of the online reputations of two contending candidates, Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons, offers its fair share of flag-raising results. Let's dig in to a few of the more interesting scores.
Tone: O'Donnell 1, Coons 4
For O'Donnell, Google Suggest (a new feature by Google that turns up predictive search resulst) sets the tone when it serves up "Christine O'Donnell witch," "Christine O'Donnell witchcraft" before "Christine O'Donnell for senate." In her earlier career O'Donnell made a public statement about her interest in witchcraft. O'Donnell reinforced this association with advertisements, videos and interviews discussing the claim. Google recognized a pattern Christine O'Donnell = witchcraft. And now the campaign is more identified with witchcraft than it is tea party, republican or Delaware senator.
Similarly, an artifact from Coons' youth is impacting his current persona, on and offline. "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist," an article written by the politician in his college years, has been digitized, discovered and disseminated. Regardless of whether or not Coons has Marxist leanings, this association creates a tone for his search results that can handicap his campaign.
O'Donnell's tone: 3:1:1 (negative, neutral, positive)--is driven by headlines of "craziness, masturbation and witchcraft." Coons' tone: 1:2:2 (negative, neutral, positive) reflects his political objectives.
Control: O'Donnell 1, Coons 4
Ever heard of cyber-squatting? Where someone takes your website or your name's URL and sets up shop? The first page of O'Donnell's search results reveal such an instance. An anti-O'Donnell campaigner has gone online and captured O'Donnell's '08 campaign page, using the site to reveal alleged hypocrisies and blemishes in O'Donnell's political and personal life.
Beyond these guerilla tactics, O'Donnell is also up against the brute force of online humor. Funny videos mocking people of power have a way of going viral. Especially when they're as mainstream as Saturday Night Live.
Campaign Coons on the other hand isn't up against the same hurdles as O'Donnell. His web search checklist is in proper order: Chris Coons campaign page, Wikipedia entry, image results, recent and relevant political news, Facebook. He's got a high level of control to prevent the unflattering "Bearded Marxist" talk from taking over and taking rank.
Message Match: O'Donnell 1, Coons 3
Just as Coons doesn't want to be known as a bearded Marxist, O'Donnell would rather not be known for witchcraft. But a look at O'Donnell's predictive search terms and a measure of her search results makes clear--she is not known for her tax plan or teacher reform, she's known for her witching ways.
We'll see tonight how the interplay of campaign slogans, fiery debate, television and social media play out in influencing voters' Digital Decision 2010.
Stay tuned later this week for O'Donnell vs Coons updates and our Top 5 Worst online errs...O'Donnell, in no way are you alone out there!