Like a lot of smart, connected people, Ramzi Amri, a cancer researcher at Harvard Medical, participates in Quora. Quora is a social networking site with a question and answer format. Because it was adopted early on by lots of tech industry leading lights and bright minds, the site is full of high-quality content.
Much of the content is, however, speculation. It's a place where we feel free to share opinions. But because these posts are publicly available to anyone through search, Amri's post ended up being misquoted and misused on a high-visibility, top-keyword-laden news item: Steve Jobs' death. And it nearly cost Amri his career. Here's Ramzi Amri's Quora post describing the nightmare.
Note that Amri was careful in his post. He says, "In my Quora piece, I clearly state in my first line that "I do not pretend to know anything about the case on a personal level and I never participated in the care of Mr. Jobs" and I conclude with a full paragraph on the importance of respecting people's treatment choices, no matter how much we may disagree with them."
Amri's debrief on the situation is worth a read. Be sure to scroll to the bulleted reasons he suggests the piece went viral.
- If you type it, you own it. It's hard to overstate how "permanent" and "findable" our online musings are, so we all need to be aware and careful of what we say.
- Continue to monitor threads you participate in. And when something you said gets attention - pay even MORE attention. Amri's post got additional juice from a Gawker article, which inaccurately described Amri's credentials. Then the Daily Mail picked that up and distorted them even more.
- Defend yourself. Amri was able to get his employer, Harvard, to see what had really happened and take the correct action. Going public correcting any misconceptions at once, repeatedly, may help. I certainly appreciate reading about his experience.
- Consider the source. I hope most of us have learned to check rumors before spreading them, and check facts before publishing.
You'd think what he wrote, and what he did afterward would be enough. But it nearly wasn't. I want this to be a world where we can feel free to share - but we need to be careful out here in cyberspace with our indelible, distortable words.