As most of you probably know Danah Boyd is one of the pre-eminent thinkers on how and why people use the web for social purposes. She is currently working as a researcher for Microsoft.
The headline is that people are doing the same things on social networks that they have always done offline. With kids that means hanging out with their friends, working to enhance their status, flirting and generally goofing around. One thing that has changed of course is that for the first time a lot of that goofing around goes on permanent record. Danah’s perspective is that for most people that won’t be an issue, and when they come to seek jobs etc people will look to their recent online record rather than their ten year old record. There are cases where it might be difficult though, and she cited teachers as a good example, where if their students (and students parents) search their online record it could undermine their authority in the classroom.
At this early stage it is of course unclear how all this will pan out, and as Danah says it is all so new that we are at a point of maximum confusion and hence fear, but I can see only two alternatives. Either as a society we all become much more tolerant of low level indiscretions, particularly when they happened some time ago, or everyone stops socialising online. The former seems overwhelmingly more likely to me.