Viral Gone Wild

A recent bullying dust-up in Prior Lake has been getting a lot of media and social media attention.  Jon Tevlin of the Star Tribune lays it out in this article: http://www.startribune.com/local/289688371.html?page=2&c=y.

As parents of two boys in their early 20’s who literally grew up along with the internet, my husband and I have drilled into them that “What happens on the internet, stays on the internet forever”.  We talked to them about how images and posts that could negatively affect job prospects even years down the line can be found by a determined HR rep, no matter how tight they think their social media security settings are.  In a worst-case scenario, images and posts could be used against them by law enforcement.

There were a few times in their high school and early college days when they definitely were not taking this parental advice to heart, although luckily nothing negative ever came of questionable images (such as a bunch of 19-year olds happily hanging out and hoisting their red Solo cups).  We of course continued to remind them of the above rule, with mixed results.  At some point, this began to change.

Whether it was increased maturity, hearing horror stories about peers who had gotten themselves into bad situations on social media, or finally realizing that just maybe their parents were right, the posts stopped showing the underage drinking and partying life and became cleaner.  They were still showing friends having fun together, a terrific aspect of social media, but the images of alcohol combined with underage kids pretty much disappeared.  Lesson learned, it would seem; and one that we hope sticks with them their entire lives.

Both dads in this article seem to have never received or internalized this message.  They let their emotions get away with them, and both are now experiencing the consequences.  This sentence in the article explains it very well:  “It’s clear that the participants in this drama are no longer in control of it, and that it has changed their lives.

The idea of images and pictures “going viral” has been around for a few years now; the benign definition in Urban Dictionary shows: 1. a website or video that has become instantly famous overnight via youtube or other popular media.  If you are trying to advertise a product, promote a cause (think Ice Bucket Challenge) or sway people’s opinion in a certain direction, going viral is one of the greatest things that can happen to you.

But this episode clearly shows going viral’s dark side: once it’s out there, it takes on a life of its own, with no way to stop it, slow it down, or manage it.  The episode above, after receiving over three million views/hits on social media, has almost certainly caused a rift in this community that may never be repaired, has caused two families go into hiding, including disconnecting their phones, taking down their social media presence, and sending their kids out of state, and cost someone his job.

I’m not using this post to make a judgment call on the mindsets of either of these parents, nor any of the kids.  (If anyone wants to “borrow” that topic to use in their own blog, feel free to do so – I’m not going there).  But if either parent had just stepped back for a minute and truly thought about what COULD happen by taking this onto social media, a lot of lives could be very different and much less chaotic at this point in time.

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3 thoughts on “Viral Gone Wild

  1. This is certainly a great lesson looking before you leap. I wonder much of society is feeling just bit too entitled to saying the last word. Does the internet just make it easier? Does it encourage it? Was “spouting off” on the increase even before forums like social media? Our capitalist society has taught us to be greedy. Greed has many tentacles.

  2. It is so hard to stop and think about the long term effects of posting on social media. Emotions make it near impossible. I wish there was a checklist you had to fill out before the social media platform would let you post something. Like, “On a scale of one to ten how angry are you about this post.” etc and then depending on what you scored it would give you a timeline like, “This post will be posted tomorrow.” or in 3 days or something like that giving you time to reconsider what you’ve posted.

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