In my first few weeks of high school in Australia, I remember a classmate messaging me something inflammatory on MSN Messenger (the equivalent of AOL for Americans). Though I don’t recall the exact phrasing of it, I know it was akin to: “Go read the Koran you….” The message was particularly strange because it came from someone who pretended to be friendly towards me in our interactions during lunch breaks.
When I typed back that I didn’t know what he was talking about and that I wasn’t religious, he persisted with his taunts. I remember thinking a few days after I’d closed out of that chat window that all I had needed to do was to save the contents of that chat and I could have taken it to the school administration and surely they would have done something about it.
I didn’t do that, and I don’t know what his attitudes are like today, but I do wonder what a generation of people who’ve grown up in the smartphone and internet age will have to contend with as they age. Their every interaction, comment, and like on Snapchat, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Reddit, and, unfortunately, Twitter, is possibly traceable, searchable and archived.
A generation is growing up online, leaving behind permanent traces of their terrible jokes, retrograde ideas, and stupid comments that might inevitably be used against them if they’re ever to reach some type of public standing.
Even if they don’t become figures of any repute, their entire intellectual growth has been documented and plotted out. We already know of cases where comments someone made years ago are dredged up and then paraded about. The recent case of tennis player Tennys Sandgren comes to mind, where some old tweets of his resurfaced after his surprise run to the 2018 Australian Open quarterfinals. Because of the outrage, Sandgren had to issue a public statement on his tweets.
Reflecting on this issue, an older friend of mine told me that she was glad she’d “grown up in an age where the internet had not been a thing.” I wonder how many people in the future will wish that they’d grown up in a similar situation — where their every utterance online was not documented and had the potential to be weaponized against them.