November 16, 2008

Incredible Web Efforts Made to Shield Victims of Santa Clara Shooting

Note: I recognize this is an extremely sensitive issue, and one that continues to develop, so the words I use here are measured. Condolences to all affected by this horrible incident.
On Friday, as you most likely know, an employee of Santa Clara-based SiPort, who had lost his job that morning, returned to the office and took the lives of three of his former colleagues, the CEO, VP of Operations and head of human resources. In such a difficult economic climate as we are facing now, many saw the horrible incident as one emblematic of the tough times. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch called it "a Sad Day in Silicon Valley." Knowing the startup culture well, and living in Sunnyvale, neighboring Santa Clara, I've been watching the story, and was somewhat relieved to learn tonight that the alleged perpetrator had been brought into custody, having been captured in Mountain View.

The human tragedy here, when taken out of the macroeconomic view, is devastating. The three lives were not statistics or meant to be examples. These were people with families, with jobs and goals, people who were taken from the Earth way too soon, and in a horrific way.

But as information consumers, looking to learn as much as we could about this incident as news developed, to be both informed, and alert, as the suspect was not apprehended until this evening, it has been interesting to see how much effort has been taken to reduce the information available to the public in terms of learning about the company or the victims themselves. Almost immediately, on Friday night, SiPort shut down all pages of its Web site, with the exception of the main page, including hiding the management page. And today, the entire site itself is empty (unless you view the Google cache).

With today's Web world leaning toward one of transparency and posting copious amounts of information, it's no surprise that the victims of the shooting had created online profiles, including on the career-oriented site of LinkedIn. VP of Operations Brian Pugh and human resources lead Marilyn Lewis, who lost their lives Friday, had posted online resumes. (Pugh, Lewis)

The Mercury News' Early Version Cited LinkedIn as the Source

In fact, it was via LinkedIn that reporters garnered much of their data on the victims themselves. An early version of a story in the San Jose Mercury News stated, "Lewis, who lived in a San Jose, worked at NeoScale Systems before joining SiPort in November. 2006. In a LinkedIn profile, she wrote," but in a subsequent filing of the story, this piece was amended instead to say, "In an online profile, she wrote."

Subsequent Updates Did Not Mention LinkedIn

Just past Midnight on Sunday morning, LinkedIn's Web site is down, so it's not clear if the online career site has been asked to either take down or modify their profiles, but the effort by the Mercury News to remove the reference to LinkedIn in their article seems to have been done to discourage curious Web viewers from further invading the deceased's data. The way in which these victims lost their lives is well outside of the focus of Mike Fruchter's Mashable article from last month, What Happens to Our Social Profiles After We Die?, but the data we do post on the Web about our home, work and hobbies is something that cannot be hidden, or erased, even after we might be gone.

(Update: LinkedIn is back up, and both profiles still are there, without changes)

The incident is horrible, and very close to home, geographically, as well as in terms of understanding the issues of stress, strife with colleagues and the demands one's career can place on the rest of your life. I also understand the desire for families to want privacy and for news media and others to be extremely sensitive to the victims, but to pull the data, or make it more difficult to learn about the human side of this tragedy may make it more difficult to relate to, not less. It is also very interesting to see how efforts are made to pull data and have it disappear from a Web that is built to not lose it.