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Idiots and Their Facebook Pages

How a hasty post can become a scarlet letter

My inability to get the point of Facebook continues unabated. I keep getting Facebook-generated LinkedIn-generated e-mails telling me that someone, even people I don’t even know, have “endorsed” me on Facebook LinkedIn. I also get e-mails from people asking me to “endorse” them. What is this about? I ask rhetorically, because for me, Facebook is and always has been more trouble than it’s worth. <i>[UPDATE: A friend points out that the “endorsement” thing is a function of LinkedIn, not Facebook. I hadn’t realized LinkedIn — another useless online thing I got involved with for some reason — sent out this sort of thing. Which tells you how much I pay attention to LinkedIn. Anyway, that doesn’t obviate any of the points I make below about Facebook and social media. — RD]</i>

And boy, is that ever the case for a nitwit named Lindsey Stone, who posted to her personal FB page this photo of herself acting like a fool at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery:

She thought it would be cute to show her friends just how kooky and outrageous she could be. Unsurprisingly, many of them didn’t think much of her stunt. Before she could delete the photo, it had spread online, prompting thousands of irate people to sign a petition of some sort asking her employer, a non-profit organization that houses adults with learning disabilities, to fire her. The organization put her on unpaid leave, and issued an apology, noting in particular that Stone carried out her rude gesture while on a business trip to Arlington.

On principle, I wish Stone’s employer would stand for its employee’s right to be a complete jerk in public. But I understand why it can’t do that, and not only because Stone was on company business when she acted a fool. A non-profit typically depends on donations to stay afloat. In that sense, when an employee associates the company’s name with a vile act like this, it could easily put the company’s existence into question.

I wish too that people would be more tolerant of the stupidity of other people in putting things like this on Facebook. There’s a new Tumblr page dedicated to collecting racist tweets and suchlike and posting them in an attempt to bring bad consequences to racists. I’m not linking to for a reason you’ll read about in this excerpt from its latest post:

On a separate note, this blog had to be taken down because of threats made to the subjects. Most people are doing the right thing, but for those who aren’t, if I get credible reports of threats, I will have to take down this blog. So if you want racists to be exposed, do not be threatening or intimidating.They deserve to lose their jobs and scholarships, but not threats of any kind.

Really, lose their jobs and scholarships? Scholarships, no; you win a scholarship because of your academic ability, not because you are a nice person. I can see the job thing, though, because what if your employer faces a boycott because of some racist thing you posted online? Here’s the thing: I looked through the blog, and some of the people it calls out are teenagers. Near the top, there’s a 15-year-old white girl who posts some nasty, racist, incredibly bigoted stuff under her own photo. She also says, “I’m 15 years old, I’m grown so don’t tell me how to run my life!”,  which gives you an idea of her maturity level.

That stuff is going to follow that 15-year-old kid around for the rest of her life. Any employer is going to be able to google her and find out that at one point in her life, this kid was a crude, vicious racist. She may have a complete change of heart, and repent of her wicked views, but this will always be there. For all we know, her parents are kind, decent people, pillars of their community, and this is the little brat’s way of rebelling against them. How many jobs will she not get in the future because an employer knows this about her, and doesn’t want to take a chance on hiring someone who once felt and may still feel that way — or who doesn’t want to run the risk that someone will google this employee, find this in her background, and try to destroy the business in an effort to punish this person for some nasty things she posted when she was an idiot teenager? This kid might spend the next five years posting blog messages apologizing for her wrongdoing and making amends for it, but nobody will necessarily know about that. All it takes is one google search to end on this one post.

Seriously, if I were this girl’s parents, at this point I would go to court and legally change her first name, for her own protection.

Thank God I got through my teenage years pre-Internet, without having the opportunity to post my thoughts online, where they would haunt me forever. This is why I freaked out when I found out my 13 year old had started a Twitter account without his parents’ knowledge or permission. He only did it to follow game developers, which is fine, but we hadn’t had a conversation with him about the dangers of communicating online, which include the possibility that something you say that sounds innocent or funny or outrageous will not be taken that way, and could haunt you forever. Mind you, he’s not the kind of kid who would think or say anything remotely like the 15 year old girl I speak of, but still, who knows what he might say ironically, for the sake of being what he, in his immaturity, thinks is funny, but that he’ll never be able to take back, and that might dog him forever?

An actual grown-up, like this Stone woman, is a harder case, because she ought to know better. Gawker asks, “Should This Woman Have Her Life Ruined Because She Posted a Stupid Photo on Her Own Facebook Page?” My answer is, “No, she shouldn’t.” But the question is meaningless, because she is having her life ruined by her obnoxious, offensive, but ultimately harmless act. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

(And by the way, if this hadn’t already gone viral, and her company hadn’t already put her on unpaid leave because of the controversy, I would have given her the same anonymous treatment as I gave the 15 year old.)



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