Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Internet is Not a Video Game

An open message to kids and young adults who haven't yet got the message:

Facebook, Twitter and all other forms of internet-based social media exist in the real, adult world of cause-and-effect consequences. They are not video games from which you can punch the "reset" button if you don't like what's happening.

In the most recent local example of this, a popular young student-athlete in a nearby suburb of Minneapolis has been charged with a felony after he posted a comment on some kind of "confessional" web site where he stated he was having a sexual relationship with an attractive young female phys. ed. teacher in his high school.  He now claims this statement was meant facetiously, sarcastically, as a comment of the absurdity of what was transpiring on this web site. (That's possible, I suppose, but it frankly smacks of the kid's attempt to bluster his way out of big trouble.) But the consequences of his action involved the quote being distributed via Twitter to hundreds of people, which in turn lead to school administrators and police interrogating the bewildered gym teacher to her great humiliation and embarrassment. Once it became clear that the stories were entirely bogus, our young high schooler was first expelled from school, and now potentially faces felony charges for the harmful effects of his actions.

As my wife and I discussed this last night, we agreed that the problem here is that internet technology is really built by and for people who view it all as some kind of game and not part of the real world. When you hear hackers talk about their actions from prison cells, for example, they generally talk about not viewing what they did as real crimes, but just as interesting intellectual games they played against financial databases and national security web sites. Nobody seems to realize that the internet exists in a real adult world where actions have consequences.

I recall from our high school days both a very attractive female gym teacher and a couple of female academic teachers who were 6 or 7 years older than we were at the time and who were the subject of jokes and innuendo, too. But the difference between 1972 and today is that back then we whispered our distasteful jokes to a cafeteria table of five or six close friends. We wouldn't have dreamed of broadcasting  boastful lies to the entire school through the loudspeaker system. But in a world of Twitter and Facebook feeds, today's kids and young adults are broadcasting their every thought to the world at large. All internet-based communication applications should come with the following warning: "Say nothing that you don't want the entire world to hear."

The fact is that this single event, even if it was entirely innocent, will now follow the young man (and the teacher) for the rest of their lives. When interviewing potential employees these days, as a manger I of course do a cursory level of internet research. Can you imagine wanting to hire somebody who has this kind of thing in their background when you do a Google search of his name?

A subject for another essay is the somewhat puzzling response in the community where this event took place. Because the young man in question is a popular kid, captain of several sports teams, the community has united behind him with a petition of more than 2,000 names asking for his school expulsion to be reversed (I have an uneasy suspicion that this is so he can lead a sports team in playoff action). Yes, it's possible that felony charges might be overkill for this transgression. But a month or two of school suspension to teach the lad a lesson certainly doesn't seem inappropriate. We're not talking about a kid being suspended for having a pen knife in the glove box of his car parked in the school parking lot. This is real stuff; effectively an assault on the teacher.

The local chief of police commented on this, wondering why the support was mobilizing behind the young man and not the young teacher who has been so badly humiliated and embarrassed by the event. And why is it, I wonder, that the young man and his family are maintaining such dead-fast silence. If I'm this kid's father, I grab him by the ear and lead him to a microphone. A public apology for the unintended consequences of his action might go along way to justifying a response of understanding and leniency toward him.

No doubt the family is acting on the advice of lawyers, who as we all know exist in their own make-believe world.