Preliminary investigation: Internet Lets a Criminal Past Catch Up Quicker

There are days when I believe the New York Times takes me personally, praising or spanking or warning me at will.

This is one of those days. After posting a piece about snooping on one’s neighbors’ real estate situations by using various nyc.gov web sites, I felt bad to read in yesterday’s Times that the same internet I use to investigate my real estate situation (and, yes, snoop on my exemplary neighbors) is being used to perform background checks and reject otherwise excellent potential job applicants.

The case Erica Goode highlighted was sympathetic: Internet Lets a Criminal Past Catch Up Quicker – NYTimes.com.

Some checks, of course, reveal unsavory aspects of a person’s life. And had I used these sources to check on the defendants in my lawsuit … well I wouldn’t be writing this.

But, although I have used internet sources to do background checks (ex post facto, damn it), I’m well aware of their insufficiencies.

One close friend, far too obsessed with her fifteen minutes of fame, kept running checks on herself and told me that Wikipedia had her facts wrong. Comically wrong. So she edited her Wikipedia page. Repeatedly. Because whenever she revisited Wikipedia, she discovered that some anonymous editor had reincorporated the mistakes about her life.

She was so pissed off. I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to her since I thought some of the mistakes were accidental and petty, but I’m certainly sympathetic to anyone whose facts, correct or not, mislead significantly about the total character. And unfortunately the individual who reads an entry is usually the sole judge of the information.

So if you’re going to snoop, make sure that your sources are accurate—certainly before you use any information you gather. And if you do use it, use it with profound sentience.


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