This isn’t exactly geek or comic book related but it’s something that made me stop and think about how one portrays themselves online and the consequences – social, financial, political – of that portrayal.
While I was surfing around Jezebel, I came across this article about hate speech, the results of Obama winning a second term, and the Twitter-verse. In case that description of the article is a little vaugue for you, the article’s title is: “Twitter Racists React to ‘That Nigger’ Getting Reelected”.
After barely getting through all of the Tweets featured (it made me physically ill), I went on down to the comments where roryroryrory commented that:
So I started looking up these nasty people online (very easy to do) and a few of them have or are looking for sports scholarships for college. Some of them have recruiting pages online.
Please feel free to share these exceptionally racist remarks with their future schools.
Ricky Catanzaro – football player at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn
Lou LaDonna – football player at West Islip High School
Kordie Girton – baseball scholarship to Indiana State University
Addison Sykes – football player at Jackson Christian Jackson, TN
Brandon Norrie – baseball player at Sickles High School Tampa, FL
Michelle Brosam – soccer player at Rider HS Wichita Falls, Texas
Cole Krut – baseball player at Beaver Falls, PA
Demi Keely – pageant girl in Carencro, Louisiana
Gabe Dutch – baseball player at Redwood HS Visalia, CA
Stehl Taylor – hockey player at Central York HS York, PA
Davis Moody – runner at Mill Creek HS Hoschton, Georgia
Following the comment, there’s a lot of dissention. Some chime in and talk about having the right to free speech. Others point out that most of these comments come from stupid teenagers and we’ve all done stupid shit as teenagers and that a Tweet shouldn’t ruin their future lives. Leena819 argues that
Yes these comments are horrible, but it’s even more horrible that you’re going out of your way to ruin these kids futures.
The majority of the comments, however, are supportive. Yes, they are stupid kids who have the right to free speech. But they’re also racist douchebags and ensuring that they face social consequences for their free speech isn’t antithetical to the principles of free speech. In short, it’s appropriate to name and shame them for what they’ve done.
Today, Jezebel posted a follow-up piece, “Racist Teens Forced to Answer for Tweets About the ‘Nigger’ President”, which states
We contacted their school’s administrators with the hope that, if their educators were made aware of their students’ ignorance, perhaps they could teach them about racial sensitivity. Or they could let them know that while the First Amendment protects their freedom of speech, it doesn’t protect them from the consequences that might result from expressing their opinions. (For example, an adult woman is currently being investigated by the Secret Service for calling President Obama a “nigger” and suggesting he be assassinated on her Facebook page.)
Additionally, several of the teens use imagery of their high schools’ sports teams on their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. If nothing else, it’s reasonable to alert administrators to the behavior of the students who are publicly representing their schools.
The author of both articles, Tracie Egan Morrissey, details how the school administration is dealing with the students – there’s not much detail due to privacy other than that administrators are aware and are dealing with the incidents. Morrissey also reports that some of the racist teens say that they were hacked, while a good chunk of the accounts have been deleted.
Myself, I’m of the mind that while freedom of speech is paramount, there should be some social consequences (i.e. “naming and shaming”) if you want to be a racist (or misogynist, or homophobic, or ableist, or classist) dickbag. I’m glad that the schools were contacted if only for the reason that they might be able to educate the racist ignorance out of these kids.1 However, and I’m partly to blame for this because I’ve reproduced roryroryrory’s comment in full (rather than redacting their information), this is now on their internet permanent records.
I am so incredibly blessed that I am the age I was when the internets came to be. Yes, I participated in some fandom-related message boards and had a couple of blogs (that have since been made private or deleted), but we didn’t yet have the barrage of social media that we currently do. I was mature enough that I was forever cognizant of the fact that getting shit of the internet would be difficult, if not impossible, to do. So I was always very careful with what I posted and I tried to go back and sanitize (or make private) everything that I had posted previously.
Even now, I’m very aware of everything I post on this website, on my Twitter account, on my Tumblr, on Facebook because I am not hiding behind an alias.2 I’m using my real name. I’m also an HR Professional, so I know that both current and future employers will scrutinize all of these things.
I even debated myself as to whether or not I was going to use “naughty” language because of the impression that it might convey. I decided that I want to because as much as this is a “professional” blog (i.e. the majority of my entries are not about my feelings, what’s going on in my life, etc.), I also wanted to convey my thoughts in as conversational and as informal a way possible. For me, that means through the judicious use of the f-bomb.
I’m incredibly blessed that I did not grow up in a time when your entire life was shared online. Where – whether by lack of teaching, supervision, knowing any better, or common fucking sense – everything is shared and nothing is withheld. Where you don’t realize that the internet will keep the record of your mistakes decades into the future.
Edited to Add (November 15th, 2012): Since publishing the aforementioned pieces over at Jezebel, they’ve received a number of racist and anti-Obama emails supporting the Twitter racists who started this whole thing. Dodai Stewart’s written a follow-up piece titled: Unsurprisingly, Readers Incensed About Coverage of Racist Teens Are Also Racist. And Terrible Spellers.
1 Sadly, I won’t be holding my breath on the effectiveness of that.
2 Hell, I’ve stopped posting and sharing things on most of them partly so that I can control the outbound flow of information and partly because I’m feeling some intense social media fatigue.
3 Okay, it wasn’t just her, but it’s true nevertheless.