A while back I wrote about Gawker‘s outing of Michael Brutsch, the infamous “troll” at Reddit who posted obscene material for fun under the pseudonym “ViolentAcrez.”
Now Gawker‘s sister publication is at it – but with a twist. Jezebel has decided to share some of Election 2012’s greatest hits of racism on Twitter from high school-aged kids – and they actually reported the kids to their schools’ leadership. (Note – this story link and this story link are still up, but they have some really nasty language.) If you’re concerned about clicking the links, suffice it to say there were a lot of people using “the N-word” to describe our recently re-elected President. And worse.
Again, there are some differences here. The people Jezebel pursued made no attempt to hide their identities. They put their racist epithets right next to their names and pictures of their faces. They made these comments publicly on a Twitter feed they have to know anyone can search. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy here. I do note that Jezebel apparently decided not to search for the identities of those who tweeted racist comments under pseudonyms – even though I’m sure it’s not that hard for a decent hacker to get that information. They are on much more solid legal footing when they simply report the obvious facts as opposed to digging for more.
What is reasonable, I think, is to cringe a bit over this. These kids are old enough to know better, but kids make mistakes sometimes, and now they have been publicly branded as racists. Just a few years ago statements like these wouldn’t be immortalized on the Internet. Millions of people read Jezebel every month. I know that if anyone applies for work at my company, particularly to work in social media, we’d check them out on the various social platforms. Maybe do a Google search. Let’s just say this wouldn’t go over well.
The more I think about it, however, the more I think this is what you have to expect in the digital age. You have to own your words. And for these kids, it now seems those words own them.
Cross-posted from David Wescott’s blog, It’s Not a Lecture