What do 30 horndogs in Pennsylvania state government have in common with the adult daughter of a Bucks County police chief? Their shameful online behavior have been making headlines, yes, but we’ll leave it to law enforcement to judge whether state officials are culpable for sharing pornography on state-owned computers during taxpayer-paid work hours, and whether the daughter and her friends are guilty of viciously attacking a gay couple in Philadelphia.
The other thing they have in common is behaving online as though they and their like-minded friends are having private conversations in their own dark corner of the Internet. Therein lie two object lessons about online behavior:
Object Lesson No. 1: Emails are not private and, like other public statements, emails can have consequences. Of the 30 to 50 male state officials allegedly involved in Porngate, eight have been named by the state’s Attorney General. So far, four of them realized it was impossible to deny their involvement and resigned, losing their livelihood as well as their dignity. Talk about hard evidence: the AG has the emails in which they passed around raunchy videos and sexually explicit PowerPoints (?!?) during a four-year virtual bachelor party, from 2008 to 2012. The AG showed excerpts of the obscene materials to groups of journalists, perhaps to prove she is not some Puritanical prude offended by Playboy centerfolds. Reporters present have written that, in addition to an impressive variety of sex acts, some of the emails included derogatory remarks based on gender, age, religion or sexual orientation.
Object Lesson No. 2: Tweets are not private and, like other public statements, tweets can have consequences. Immediately after the police chief’s daughter was identified as one of the alleged attackers, journalists checked out her social media posts. Adding insults to the injuries she is accused of inflicting, her use of hashtags on Twitter include homophobic slurs. Her employer, Abington Health’s Lansdale Hospital, fired her after seeing that she tweeted comments about patients and photos of patient x-rays obtained in her job as an emergency room technician. And her father has seen his own reputation tarnished by tweets noting that he let her kick down a door on a police raid (#epic) and granted her request to run the license plate and issue a ticket to a guy she said had run her off the road (#sorrynotsorry #lovemydad).
Words to the wise. Anything you put on the Internet can be found, even if you delete it, smash your hard drive with a sledgehammer and dump your computer in the ocean. Use social media and email as though anything you write or share might be in tomorrow’s headlines. Because it might.
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