“That Was the Point”

In comments to my last post, Kevin Donovan makes a good point:

I don’t think that’s quite fair. The partying teenager doesn’t know that they may become the somber politician. Or the celebrity. Nor do they necessarily know that certain pictures are in existence (maybe lying dormant on a high school friend’s hard drive, ready to be shared).

I think we’re in for a lot of surprises and pain for my generation, but ultimately people will have to accept that young people do certain things that their older selves would not.

To be clear, I’m not claiming that there are no consequences to putting embarrassing photos on Facebook. Anything you put online could be saved by anyone who sees it, and could surface years later. That could be embarrassing, especially if you wind up getting nominated for a cabinet post.

But here’s the thing: we’ve now had three presidents in a row that are widely believed to have engaged in illicit drug use in college. When Bill Clinton faced questions about his drug use, he was forced to make the ridiculous argument that he “didn’t inhale.” By the time Barack Obama was running for president, he was able to say “I inhaled—that was the point.”

2830201175_ec6b525972Public attitudes are changing rapidly, and I think the Internet will only accelerate that development. When Kevin gets nominated to be head of the World Bank in 2029, half the people on his Senate confirmation committee will have been users of Facebook (or its non-walled-garden successor) for the preceding 20 years. I suspect most of them will intuitively understand that it’s inappropriate to reject an otherwise-qualified nominee because they made a lewd gesture to a camera 20 years earlier.

Of course, any compromising pictures of Kevin that exist will probably get circulated, and he might find that personally embarrassing. But I suspect that personal embarrassment will be the extent of the “serious consequences.” Rejecting a job candidate because of the embarrassing photos on his Facebook page will seem as silly in 2029 as rejecting a presidential candidate because he inhaled does today.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “That Was the Point”

  1. > Public attitudes are changing rapidly, and I think the Internet will only accelerate that development

    I think that’s one of the greatest benefits of the internet. By making things that most people do but don’t talk about at least somewhat public, it will hopefully (and I don’t see how it can’t) get people to come to grips with the fact that certain behavior is just part of being human, and isn’t necessarily something to be ashamed of or to make illegal.

  2. Alex Klein says:

    Kevin and I have talked about this on and off for the past 4 years — it’s always been a very interesting topic. We’ve come across identity-scrubbing services (great scammy idea) and countless local and national anecdotes (leaked Sanford emails, speechwriters fondling Hillary’s breasts in FB pics, and on and on), and there’s only one real overarching similarity: Compromising material doesn’t get someone in trouble; his handling of the matter afterward is what decides his fate.

    This is really no different from baseball players’ reactions to steroid leaks, 1960s senators’ handling of rumors of affairs, and celebrities’ reactions to leaked sex tapes. If you embrace your past mistakes, say the right things, tell the whole story, and stay squeaky clean for a few months, you’re almost 100% good to go. If you botch your reaction, whether we’re talking about 150 years ago or 25 yeasr from now, you’re gonna go down. It’s all in the reaction — it doesn’t (and won’t) matter what you’re reacting to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.