Stupidity Not an Option in Today’s Social World

By Jason Menard

In today’s digital age, stupidity is no longer an option.

After all, one act, one click, one moment in time is all it can take to destroy what takes years to build – your reputation. And youthful indiscretions can take on a permanence that forces kids to grow up faster than ever before.

In today’s social age, one’s reputation can be sullied in an instant – and thanks to the relative permanence of on-line content, it can take years to rebuild. That’s assuming rebuilding is even possible.

One recent example of that comes from the John Labatt Centre banana thrower. Who knows what the alleged perpetrator’s true motivation was? The fact of the matter is that throughoutNorth America this person has been branded as a racist. And that label is likely to be affixed to his name for years to come.

That incident went viral extremely quickly. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook fuelled the fire, but the story got tremendous play on mainstream news and sports outlets throughout the continent.

So, for years, when someone does a Google search on this guy’s name, what do you think will be the first thing that comes up?

It’s a lesson that people simply refuse to learn – and those most at risk are incapable of understanding the implication of their behaviours.

Our youth has grown up in the social age. They overshare every aspect of their lives on social networks. They make jokes and comments that could be acceptable given certain context – but unfortunately, search engines are not historical analyses. Context gets lost in the midst of time and only the words, images, and behaviours remain.

This is one lesson that we simply can’t get our 17-year-old son to understand. With every Facebook post and tagged photo, he’s building his on-line history. And while his friends may get the jokes or the comments, who is to say that others will be so forgiving? A simple Google search doesn’t exactly paint a good picture of him. Whether or not it’s representative of who he is now – or, more importantly, who he will become in the future – it’s what most people are going to base their first impressions of him upon. It could make for some interesting job interviews considering most HR people at least do a cursory social networking search as part of the vetting process.

We were all young once and did stupid things. Back in my day, though, there weren’t dozens of cell phone cameras at the ready, prepared to document each and every second of moronic behaviour. No, photos required film – which mean paying an exorbitant price to buy 24 exposures, paying another exorbitant fee to have those developed; and a little luck to hope more than a handful came out halfway-decently exposed and in focus.

It was rarely worth the effort for special occasions; much less so to carry around with us every time we hung out.

Today it’s different. A photo can be uploaded and distributed to the masses with just a click of one’s cell phone. Idiocy can be broadcast in real time.

Combine that with the desire to appear cool to friends, the willingness to brag or exaggerate, and a society that’s evolving with a dramatically diminished personal filter, and you end up with the motive and the opportunity – is it any surprise that so many are guilty of stupidity?

Privacy and personal space are almost quaint ideas today. It’s a challenge to explain why we don’t want our every trip and excursion broadcast to the world – it’s a concept that simply doesn’t resonate with today’s youth. Unfortunately, its value will become apparent to our kids – likely far too late.

I am who am I online. With well over 400 blog posts, countless Facebook updates, and over 1,250 Tweets, I’m fully aware that my thoughts, beliefs, and opinions are out there for all to see. I also feel extremely confident that someone reviewing these items would get a fairly accurate feel for who I am as a person. I write what I believe and value honesty in all my social media interactions.

But I’ve had the luxury of making mistakes in the privacy of my own circle of friends. Those lapses in judgment weren’t broadcast for the world to see; nor are they searchable. Today’s youth don’t have the benefit of that luxury and, in many cases, do and say things that effectively sabotage their online reputation.

Is there any solution for this? Yes. Simply think before you act and Tweet – but that has never been a hallmark of youth culture. Unfortunately, the price of those youthful indiscretions will be paid through the undermining of their own reputations.

The smarter, more self-aware kids and youth out there will realize that stupidity is no longer an option in today’s social age. The others who are stuck in the here and now? Well, they’ll find out how much being “cool” truly costs.

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