Sonn: The Internet never forgets

BY BARRETT SONN | JULY 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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When I was an ignorant little freshman, I learned an important lesson about the effect a person’s actions can have in the realm of social media. One of my friends had passed away, and another friend asked me on Facebook how he had died. Like an idiot, I posted a comment implying that his death may have been caused or influenced by drugs.

I had posted with no malicious intent — I was simply passing along a rumor I had heard from somebody who was better friends with the guy than I was. Maybe a few months passed. Or a few weeks, I don’t remember exactly. But I remember getting a call late on a Saturday night from my parents.

My dead friend’s family was threatening to sue my family for millions of dollars because of my seemingly innocent but possibly defamatory Facebook comment. Luckily for everybody involved, the situation was defused after I talked on the phone with the guy’s dad. But I sure learned my lesson after that incident, and while I still do or say silly things online at times, I do try to make sure I’m not doing anything I could be held accountable for in a negative manner (or just make sure it’s as inconsequential as possible).

Don’t forget — this was something that happened because I wasn’t smart enough or thinking ahead about what that one little Facebook comment contained. I think my mistake was an understandable one to make.

Not all social-media faux pas are quite so easily explained, of course. There are the people who do things they know are dumb, or trust people they shouldn’t, and end up with some unflattering information on the web.

Consider the case of Anthony Weiner (a.k.a. Carlos Danger), who holds the dubious honor of having the quintessentially perfect last name for a sexting scandal, along with the even more dubious honor of being caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar a second time. And this is a guy who is considered to be a frontrunner in the New York mayoral race.

It’s one thing to make an innocent mistake, but what in the world is going through Weiner’s head when he goes online and cavorts with women? There’s a profound ignorance or a profound arrogance at the core of such behavior.

Of course, Carlos Danger-Weiner is not the only individual who got “revealed” online. Numerous athletes, actresses, and a whole host of other famous individuals have also found themselves exposed, like Brett Favre and the perpetually sad Greg Oden.

It’s time for individuals to be more responsible in the era of instant media and instant feedback. It’s time to take celebrity affairs back offline.

Remember, nothing gets deleted from the Internet. It all gets recorded somewhere (the NSA just nodded). And this applies to things other than the visual category. Emails, texts, instant messages — these things get logged, and they can create a messy, often disturbing paper trail when story’s such as Weiner’s come to light.

Celebrities and other luminaries need to take a page out of my book and sanitize their online presence; they need to stop expecting privacy on the open plains of the Internet.

Ultimately, the Internet is an extension of your public persona, not your private self. That’s a lesson too many of us learn the hard way.

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