Last week Connor Riley, 22, did something on the Internet that in hindsight, even she agrees was, well, kind of dumb. Back in the day, this would be no biggie. Youthful indiscretions happened, lessons were learned, and said discretions were lost in time. Thanks to the handy-dandy Internet, this is no longer the case. Riley quickly learned this for herself on Twitter, following what she describes as her "crass-sounding" tweet.
"Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."
Turns out, the fact that Riley’s working on a master’s degree in information management and systems at University of California, Berkeley, didn’t prevent her from mismanaging her own information on Twitter. Riley hadn’t bothered to click the one privacy box that would have made the message exclusive to her friends (hey, who does?) and her worldwide tweet received a response from someone claiming to be a Cisco associate … someone who would be happy to pass her sentiment along to her hiring manager.
"Oh snap!" said the Twitterverse, and Riley soon became the latest laughingstock on the Internet, the "Cisco Fatty" ingrate who pompously Twittered her way out of employment in this dire economy. No matter that the tweet was taken completely out of context, according to Riley — that the "fatty paycheck" was for an internship she didn’t want and had already turned down.
Trolling netizens reacted like the juvenile jackasses we know them to be, quickly revealing Riley’s personal information, calling her names that would make a sailor blush, and at least one opportunistic jerkwad erecting CiscoFatty.com. Even Technotica had a go , using her as yet another excuse to bash social networking. (Hey y'all, come friend me on Facebook!)
Cisco, which doesn't comment on employees (prospective or not) was very modern about the whole thing, posting a social networking "philosophy" other companies might do well to emulate. (I'm looking at you, Philadelphia Eagles.) Still, given the "Nothing stays in Vegas" nature of the Internet, "Cisco Fatty," may stick for a very long time, like gum on an odiferous shoe sole cocktail of toilet paper and dog poo. It ain’t fair, but as many an annoying parent has reminded many a sobbing child, "Nobody said life is fair." And neither is the Internet.
Riley graciously agreed to talk to Technotica about what she says she hopes is her short-lived experience with Internet infamy. (The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.)
Soon after the "Cisco Fatty" incident, you wrote a blog entry titled, "Dear Internet Superheroes," addressing your experience. Why?
I wrote the blog entry not really expecting many people to find it. It was really just sort of a way for me to decompress and share what I had been thinking with the people I go to school with. Our degree program (Information Management and Systems) is very oriented in thinking about how people share information and social networking is very interesting to us.
Does that strike you as humorous, that you’re actually studying information management, and then this happens?
It is pretty funny and in a way I feel like I should have been a little bit more careful. I was using Twitter in a way that didn’t jibe with how Twitter really works. I was using it more like I was on Facebook. I was posting status updates to people who are my friends, not realizing or caring that everybody in the whole world could see my updates because I wasn’t thinking my updates were interesting to anybody outside my group. Yup, I certainly learned the hard way. (Laughs.)
People have said just horrible things about you online, called you awful names … yet in your blog entry on this experience, you write about how you understand the negative reactions, even if they are misguided.
I certainly still agree with my blog entry. On the one hand it’s a tough time in the economy. And yet, on the other hand I sort of consider myself outside of all that. I’m not someone who is actively going out there looking for a career yet. I was just looking at summer internship positions. It’s perfectly reasonable for some people to be extremely offended that someone would be so flippant about a job in such a bad job market. Another point I make in the blog post is that I think that people are really focusing on Twitter right now and how people are using Twitter. People are just waiting for someone to screw up real bad on Twitter.
It couldn’t have been pleasant experience … was it painful reading what people wrote?
At first, absolutely. I’m a pretty thin-skinned person. I felt a lot of remorse and hurt, but everyone around me was right when they said, "You’ll be laughing about this in two days." So right now, you know, it still stings a bit when people say absolutely thoughtless horrible things in blog comments or whatnot. But yeah, now I’m taking it in stride
Were you surprised by how ugly it got?
I was honestly … in hindsight I’m not surprised at the level of venom people are willing to level at somebody they don’t know anything about. When it was just one of my tweets and a couple of other people’s tweets, I can absolutely see how people would just kind of take that and run with it. On my blog, I’ve gotten some very supportive comments and I’ve gotten some very negative comments. But it is different than what people were saying on Twitter 15 minutes after it exploded.
Do you have to accept comments before they’re posted?
I do read them and accept them. I haven’t really been censoring them that much, I’ve been censoring out ones that threaten violence (against the trolls) ... and I’ve left out comments that don’t really add to the level of discourse, that are just, "Haha, you suck."
It seems you’re being more thoughtful and protective of the people who trashed you than they were of you.
I’m not planning on writing more blog posts about this. I don’t want to keep it going for any longer than it has to go. This is just for me to try and get my thoughts out there, it’s not for me to try and destroy somebody else. And so I think that putting up the comments that are fairly good, like "It’s not fair," or "You should watch your mouth, young lady," I think they should be shared. I think it could be a good idea to see a different side.
Did you have any problems with what I wrote about you in "How Twitter gets you fired in 140 characters or less?"
As I recall, it was fairly brief and didn’t infer anything. I’ve got to tell you, some things I’ve read, people are just making things up off the top of their head. People are saying that, "Cisco called her and rescinded her job offer in disgrace," but I think that’s kind of what they wanted to happen. It’s kind of amazing how … all of these blog posts came out and a depressing number of them didn’t read what I wrote at all.
"I am not actually a geek," the blog which helped "break" this story is very supportive of you and posits that you may use this as an opportunity to write about your experience for a larger audience. Do you think you’ll do that?
I’m actually in a course right now that’s dealing with social issues of information ... and the deliverable for that course is a 25- to 30-page paper. I’ve got to tell you, before last week I didn’t really have a super good idea of what my topic was going to be. But I think I could probably parlay my experience into an interesting academic paper. If I do write about it more, I think I’ll keep it in the academic realm. I never really wanted to become a famous blogger.
Join Helen A.S. Popkin’s own Twitter FAIL watch! It can’t be long now.
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