Your Digital Life

I’ve often wondered who will be able to run for political office in forty or fifty years. People, especially youg people, seem to be so naive about posting things online. For years online forums and messageboards have been a place where people vented. Now sites like Myspace, Facebook and others are creating such a low barrier to entry that almost every middle and high school child in the United States has some kind of web presence. What many fail to understand is that once something is posted or “said” on the internet it never goes away…ever. The internet is also quite easy to search if you know what you’re doing. This dangerous combination means that everything you write to a messageboard can be found at some point in the future and “can and will be used against you”. Any kind of off-color comment or joke you ever made online, even if your intention wasn’t to hurt anyone, is public knowledge.

Employers already know about this. BusinessWeek recently ran an article called “You are what you post” that talked about some of the implications for job seeking but I think the arena where this will really get the consultants salivating is politics. There are so few people who are able to hold their tounge and never offend anyone. In the past politicians have relied primarily on obscuring and making it difficult to find embarassing things about their past. When today’s teens start running for political office these things will only be an internet search away. Remember that posting to that email discussion list about STDs you made when you were 15? How about that time someone on a messageboard got you mad and you called them a racial slur? You may have forgotten these incidents but the internet has not and neither will your enemies.

I wonder if the politicians of the future will need to be groomed from birth to have no defects and think very, very carefully before ever speaking. On the other hand our society may end up becoming more accepting of faults which would not be an all bad outcome. This remains to be seen but in the meantime those of us who have always tried to think about how what we say today could come back (for better or worse) in the future are going to be much better off than the indiscriminate masses.


  1. Nah, I think we’re getting more tolerant of the human-ness of our elected officials. After all, our current pres smokes (occasionally) and admitted to trying cocaine, right?

  2. I have a professional life and a personal life. Facebook blurs the line between the two, but I’m careful to keep a certain distance from reality in my facebook postings.

    On the other hand, I used to find myself holding back on the comments I’d make, causes I’d support, etc. Don’t want to offend someone, right? But the truth is I was self-censoring for fear that my words would be used against me.
    Reality is, if someone is going to do business with me, elect me president, etc. it better damn well be based on measurable qualifications, not how good I am at PR.

    The responsibility that comes with making sometimes offensive statements is learning to take other people’s statements lightly. If I judge a politician or friend for some behavior or view they’ve abandoned years ago I’m no better than the employer who dismisses a highly qualified candidate for personal views or outside-of-work lifestyle choices.

    Might I change my beliefs and viewpoints sometime in the future? Probably. I certainly have in the past. But I won’t ever regret making a statement to support those viewpoints today, because I’m able to understand people, values, and attitude change.

    I’d much rather support a politician who’s had the courage to take a stand, even an unpopular one, than someone who fails to act for fear of the future.