Many years ago I had a terrific student. It was my first semester of college teaching and I got attached. We remained friendly after the class ended, but we didn't keep in touch after she graduated.
One idle evening, several years later, I ran a web search on her. I found her instantly: a year or two earlier she'd made all the papers in the city in which she was then living--and the campus newspaper at the institution she was then attending--for a truly bizarre incident. I won't detail it except to say that if it even crossed your mind that someone might do this thing, it would be as a fraternity prank. A really stupid, totally illegal fraternity prank.
Anyway, the story was that she'd been heading home from a university reception when her one or two drinks interacted badly with some painkillers she was on for a sports injury, and she spontaneously did this wacko thing (of which she has no memory).
By the time I read the account, there had been a hearing at which she'd been sentenced to community service; luckily, no one had gotten hurt and there had been no property damage, and since she had a totally clean record and dozens of people had testified that her behavior was inconsistent with anything she'd ever done in her entire life, the judge was lenient. Still, it was All. Over. The. Internet.
Ouch! I thought, reading it, and quickly closed my browser. I was glad she'd gotten off lightly, but very sorry this was my first encounter with her later life. I still hoped she'd go on to great things, but for whatever reason it never occurred to me to Google her again.
Thinking she was probably in the field for which she'd been working on a graduate degree, I plugged in her first and last name and the name of the school where the incident had occurred. I figured I'd turn up a workplace bio.
And. . . sure enough! A bio! The first link! I clicked on it and found a very thorough two-paragraph biography. I was happy that it suggested she was doing well.
But something about the bio seemed wrong--it didn't read like the kind of thing an employer would put up. I noticed the site was run by WordPress and figured it must be a personal blog, so I clicked "home." But that was it: there was only an "about" page. No blog. Then I looked closer at the URL: it was her first and last name plus the name of her graduate school (e.g., lucysmithvanderbilt.wordpress.com). Weird! Why would she identify herself that way? Then I went back to the full roster of Google hits and saw that there was a lucysmithvanderbilt.blogspot.com, a lucysmithvanderbilt.typepad.com, and on and on and on for a couple of pages of hits.
The bios vary slightly in their wording, so the casual observer might not immediately realize that they're serving the same purpose--that purpose being to hide, or at least help neutralize, the effect of all those older links about her, uh, youthful escapade.
I don't blame her for this; everyone deserves to be able to live down a bad decision or two. But it's still an eerie thing to encounter when looking for a real trace of a real person--dummy site after dummy site after dummy site.