Daily Archives: November 7, 2010

Why it might get harder to find good people to run for office or your future is really your past.

I read two interesting columns today in the WSJ that on the surface have nothing in common until you start to think about it.

Peggy Noonan wrote that “all candidates must assume now that they are being taped, wherever they are, including private conversations. Sharron Angle was taped in a private meeting with a potential supporter, who leaked it to the press, to her embarrassment. The taper/leaker was a sleaze and a weasel—a sleazel—but candidates can no longer ever assume they are speaking in confidence; they have to assume even aides and supporters are wired. (Go reread “Game Change” and wonder if some of the conversations reported there were taped.) The zone of privacy just got smaller, and the possibility of blackmail, a perennial unseen force in politics, wider. Prediction: This fact will, at some point in 2012, cause an uproar.”

And the next step from recording is filming and posting on YouTube.

“Annoy the wrong person, behave in a way some blogger disdains, and you will soon find yourself locked in the digital pillory, exposed to snark and ridicule. These are supposed to be salubrious incentives to civil public behavior, but I haven’t seen much evidence that a Web-armed society is a polite one,” according to Eric Felton.

He goes on to say that “The most odious aspect of these online humiliations is that they don’t go away. As law professor Daniel J. Solove notes in his book “The Future of Reputation,” the Internet saddles us with permanent digital baggage: “Internet shaming creates an indelible blemish on a person’s identity. Being shamed in cyberspace is akin to being marked for life.”

It made me think that in this day and age, how do we find politicians with absolutely spotless pasts? And on the internet, thanks in great part to the anonymous character of it, you don’t need proof to make accusations.

Let’s look at some partially exaggerated scenarios. Are we going to have candidates whose college frat pranks, whether true or not and then maybe posted on a social network site, can come back years later and haunt them during a campaign? Do we expect an 18 or 20 year old to know, that their “dabbling in witchcraft on a date” and maybe some classmate filmed it on a cell phone, will sink their political aspirations in 20 years when it’s posted to YouTube? How many 18 or 24 year olds know they will be running for political office in 20 years? How many of us knew at 22 that we would be where we are now? And how many of us did what qualifies as basically stupid things in high school and college?

It makes me wonder how many otherwise qualified and exceptional people will shy away from running for office because of these kinds of pitfalls. Or how many otherwise fine lives will be ruined. This is a new age that we are just growing into. Most of us have not had the world wide web at our fingertips for too much more than a decade. And many of us have no idea on whose hard drives our past is residing: whether it’s a completely true past or partially manipulated one by someone who would wish us ill.

It’s something to ponder, I think.