I had a conversation with my students today about the popularity of media sites like Youtube and social networking sites. For college bound high school students, by the way, social networking sites start and end with Facebook. When one of them asked what I thought of Facebook, I told them that I didn’t have an account, so I wasn’t really sure. He said “I know,” but he said it in a way that would make just about anyone shiver. He had spent an hour the night before searching for anything about me online, just because he was bored.
I mention this because it highlights the permanent and shockingly accessible amount of information that floats around the internet. This is far from groundbreaking, but I’m looking at it suddenly from the eyes of high school students. Picture every bad decision you made along the lines of:
1. Pictures or video of you doing something illegal / unattractive
2. Writing (poetry, humor, hatred) that should never see the light of day
3. Angry comments delivered to others without full consideration of their impact
4. Professions of never-ending love
Some of the students that sit in my class everyday may end up someday running for political office. The possibility of a bad decision being dug up by their opponents may be much larger than just finding someone who will testify to seeing / hearing that decision. Some have argued that without the macaca debacle, George Allen would have retained his Senate seat and the current Democratic majority would not exist. The world of politics is in no way ready for the day that a presidential candidate realizes that the pictures of him hitting a beer bong are in hundreds of hard drives because he shared it as an eighteen year old on his Facebook page. Slate put together a pretty clever video on the subject of politician ambush during campaigning but it doesn’t address my concern, that information can be put into the public domain before someone even knows how many Representatives are in the House, let alone whether or not they’ll run.
There’s something tragic about ruining your life by saying something inappropriate to a small audience that is then broadcast to a large one. If you’re old (read: 30 or older) though, it’s your own damn fault. When you’ve not even finished high school or college, you should be able to speak without worrying about it costing you a job when you’re old (again, 30 or older.) Watching the Borat movie I relished the humiliation of the old rodeo director advocating the execution of homosexuals. But I felt sorry for the meathead, frat-rat, douchebag jocks. Those are the type of guys that I hated in college, but now I feel some pity for them. The fact that those guys may not get a job because they got drunk and made some (admittedly heinous and racially insensitive) remarks as 20 year olds strikes me as unfortunate.