November 23, 2012
The Consequences of Being Stupid on the Internet
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.