BALOG COLUMN: Long lasting effects of the Internet

Back in the day, students feared the permanent record. Anything you did in school was presumably being recorded in some file that would follow you around for the rest of your life.

It was a scary thought.

Of course, there was no such thing.

Now, however, the Internet is your permanent record, and nobody's scared of it.

But they should be.

The Post and Courier gets requests to change this so-called permanent record all the time. In fact, there's a cottage industry to help people scrub their histories so that potential bosses won't know that they once held their school's keg-standing record.

The Internet is a permanent record, and that's a problem for Ashley Patrick, the School of the Arts senior who posted a tweet linking to a racially insensitive meme.

Times change

Twenty-five years ago, before memes and when the only viral concern in high school was meningitis, a student in Patrick's situation might have written a note to a friend about a dustup with a classmate, and that likely would have been the end of it.

Now, because of a clearly careless and perhaps thoughtless act, she's been involved in a protracted legal battle that has brought unwanted attention and disrupted the end of her high school career.

Sure, she gets a diploma that says she graduated from SOA. But she couldn't go to the prom Saturday night or walk on stage to accept her diploma, two major life events.

It makes sense to ask her to write a paper about social media and racism, and maybe a suspension was merited, but the fact is, the tweet probably bothers the administrators more than it bothered the students.

The ruling from the Charleston County School Board won't affect her job prospects. But the Internet might. A would-be employer who Googles her may see a video performance of her and other SOA students singing “Castle on a Cloud” or they might read about this tweet.

Long-term consequences

It used to be that a story would appear in a newspaper, and apart from family members, librarians and a few other folks who would save copies for posterity, nobody else was likely to see it. Now, that's all changed, and in many ways having an electronic record is a good thing.

But the permanent record of social media like Facebook and Twitter (the latter enshrined in the Library of Congress, no less) should be more daunting than it is.

It is the perfect storm. Young people often don't realize how their actions could affect them in the future — and the Internet almost never forgets. Though the students involved probably would have forgotten the whole thing pretty quickly if the grownups hadn't gotten involved.

This is not a suggestion that we unplug or retreat from the digital world.

But it's certainly time that we did a better job letting young people know that social media has consequences, and that we all should make it more than an afterthought.



Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.

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