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November 23, 2012

The Consequences of Being Stupid on the Internet

In the olden days, if you did something disrespectful or stupid, you would only really hear about it if somebody saw you. If somebody did see you, your reputation in the village may get a bit tarnished, but perhaps you could appear in front of the Village Council, make amends somehow, and go on your way? People might look at you funny for a while. But over time, if you behaved yourself, your offense may have been forgotten.

That is, unless you created a leaflet with a pencil drawing of you doing the stupid thing, hand-drawn about 5000 times, posted it to the notice board on the village green and dropped it off at every house in every village for miles around.

Even then, nobody in, say, Moscow would have any idea what you did if you happened to go there.

Now? Being stupid can place a permanent stain on your reputation, cost you your job, and maybe even prevent you from getting more jobs unless you do a massive, public mea culpa.

Yes, we have this thing called social media now. There seems to be a virus running rampant throughout social media, though, because it seems to infect millions of people and make them broadcast their stupidity for all the world to see.

If you were on the Internet at all this last week, you've seen the saga of two non-profit organization workers who have killed their careers. Lindsey Stone and Jamie Schuh were on a company-sponsored trip to Washington D.C. As part of their trip, they decided to take in some of the sights, including Arlington National Cemetery. To be specific, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It's very nice that they were patriotic enough to go pay their respects to the fallen like that.

Except that's not what they did.

For those who don't click on the link (and why do I provide them if you're not going to click on them???), here's what they did, with Lindsey in front of the camera and Jamie behind it.

Real cool, eh? Even more stupidly, Lindsey posted it on her Facebook page.

And it went viral. Scathing criticism came from all over the web at their blatant disrespect to our fallen warriors. Lindsey was stunned that it caused this much controversy. She said it was just part of her and her friend being their typical douchebag selves, "challenging authority in general." They took a picture of her smoking in front of no-smoking sign, for heaven's sake! This is the same thing, right? It was all in good fun.

We're cool, right?

No, we're not cool.

Criticism continued to pour in, until the organization they worked for, LIFE (Living Independently Forever) eventually terminated them (or asked for their resignation, it's unclear which, but they have basically lost their jobs).

What is it about people and social media? People are wont to post their most stupid moments for all to see. Called in sick to work? You probably shouldn't be posting that picture of you at the Cardinals game the same night, or you down at the beach sunbathing.

What we used to keep hidden, we now showcase to everybody. Even if you keep your Facebook profile private, a picture is inevitably going to get out if you're being an idiot. Remember the jerk who made a video of himself yelling at the girl at Chick-Fil-A a few months ago? He was yelling at her for the company's contributions to anti-gay organizations. Whether you agree or disagree with Chick-Fil-A's owners, what does it say about you that you take it out on a minimum-wage worker at the drive-through window?

It says you're an asshole. And then when you post it online, you tell everybody in the world that you're an asshole.

When it gets out who you are and where you work, the company you work for is not going to want to be associated with you. Unless you're unionized (don't get me started on that), the company has every right to let you go for bringing their name down into the mud with you.

For those of you crying "free speech!" very loudly, all that says is that the government can't lock you up for speaking. The First Amendment does not protect you from other consequences of your actions.

On the other hand, it is a fair question to ask about whether or not a lot of people over-react to stuff like this. When videos and pictures go viral, there's almost a pack mentality where everybody gangs up on the offender, hounding them off the Net and sometimes (as in this case) out of a job. Where do you draw the line there? Personally, I do think that having fun at the expense of the war dead (not just soldiers, but *dead* soldiers) is over the line.

It's also an unfortunate fact of life that this stuff tends to fly out of control. Why spark it to begin with? Especially when you are being an idiot? Whether or not people are right to go overboard, it happens. Why risk it?

So what is it? What is it about social media that draws out our inner idiot? Or do we all have inner idiots and social media just makes it easier to show them to everybody else? I guess the two ladies would have taken that picture even if they didn't have a place to showcase it. Maybe pass it around to all of their friends.

Or would they?

Is there an innate need for attention that brings this out? A kind of "look at me!" mentality that social media feeds off of?

Is it a virus? And if so, is there a cure?

I don't know. Personally, I think it's yet another sad reflection on society.

Both issues mentioned above are, actually.


  1. I saw this earlier in the week and was horrified. To the extent that I signed a petition being sent to Life's website requesting that these individuals be fired. They had originally been put on indefinite leave, pending an internal investigation. Okay, WHAT?? The photo gives all the evidence necessary to make a fast and accurate decision to terminate these people.

    You know how patriotic I am, and I admit I am much more so that your average American. In light of that, I was pleasantly surprised at the outcry this generated. Turns out that the majority of Americans were equally offended.

    The part that concerns me is the egregious lack of awareness of this girl and her cohorts that this would be viewed as disrespectful. What part of her upbringing overlooked teaching her simple respect for a burial site?? What is missing within her psyche that she is blatantly ignorant that she disrespected not only the soldiers buried there, but also every soldier who has defended this country, and she disrespected the very foundation of the country?? I can only hope that the results of her actions have taught her something of import, and that she will change and grow as a person, and find more value in the gift of being born an American.

    I don't think social media draws out our inner idiot, per se. I wouldn't ever do such an empty-headed thing, regardless of social media existing or not. I think this goes much deeper than social media prompting anything - social media just, sadly, underscores and offers a glaring platform to highlight a crumbling of morals, ethics and etiquette. And that's truly sad.

    You knew I'd get all ranted up on this one, right? I don't know if this makes me officially "old" in the "what is UP w/ that younger generation" kind of way or not. I just know that the actions of these particular young people offended me deeply, and I'm happy to know that final action to terminate their employment was taken.

    - Dawnie

    1. I didn't post it for that reason, but I admit that I thought it would get a comment out of you. :)

      I guess my question was more: would these people do this stupid stuff if there wasn't a platform out there for them to showcase it? That's what I mean by asking whether social media draws out our inner idiot. I'm not saying that social media makes us all idiots or anything. :)

    2. I tried to address that part of the equation. I don't think that social media encourages idiocy. I think this type of behavior lurks, regardless of it being captured and perpetuated on the internet. Talk to anyone who has worked in insurance (homeowners or health based) longer than the internet has existed and they'll tell you that idiocy has been alive & kicking way before people could plaster their actions across social media platforms. When I lived in Tampa, I briefly worked for a homeowners insurance group, and the level of witless actions never ceased to stun and amaze me. That particular group had a Wall of Shame bulletin board that went back 45 years and had some of the most epic idiocy I've ever witnessed. Apparently it's just human nature, which is rather alarming when you think about it!

    3. Oh, ok. I see what you mean now. It is rather alarming. :)


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