It started with my telling my middle child it was time for her to go to bed. Whether she’s aware of it or not I started pushing her to go to bed earlier and earlier because I know for a fact she goes in her room, turns the light on and stays up to ungodly hours of the night. Sometimes I head up to bed myself and see the light creeping out from under her door. That, of course, is followed by the panicked scrambling noises and shuffling over to the door and shutting off of said light. She thinks I don’t know she’s doing it but I do. Just like I hear her playing the guitar and singing at full volume through the ceiling of our living room or the tinny lilt of her headphones when she’s listening to music or watching videos.
But tonight I told her goodnight and wanted her to head up to bed. I was making lunches. She said her good-night, hugged me, kissed me on the cheek . . . then proceeded to inform me of every major detail of her project at school.
This came at teenage speed, however, so all I got was “we have this project…” and was followed by an enormous amount of high-speed gibberish and ended with “can you believe that?!”
The look on my face must have given it away so she slowed down.
My daughter went on a tear about her friend’s reaction to something she read online. Something about women, other kids, rape, how women dress . . . quite honestly, it was another rant at high-speed and I couldn’t take it all in.
“It’s a social media meme, kiddo, it’s probably not even real!”
She looked at me dumbfounded.
“Yeah, but they had the evidence…”
“And where was the evidence gathered?”
She looked at me, confident, smiling . . . “Reddit. It was a discussion and reaction on Reddit, Daaaad!” The last word was said with just enough disdain that I couldn’t let it go.
“Reddit isn’t fact, my dear, Reddit is the social pack.”
“Reddit…it’s not factual. I can’t use Reddit as a source for a story on the air, it’s not always right. This is the same website got tons of people together and they blamed a kid who had disappeared from college for the Boston Marathon bombing. They were wrong. Horribly wrong. When the family found out they had to pull their website and Facebook page looking for him. Reddit went rabid and was nothing short of the lunatic fringe claiming they’d found the bomber.”
My daughter looked at me for the inevitable follow-up.
I continued my discussion with her. Reddit is great for what it is: discussion. A starting point. A point of contact and information and conversation. Wikipedia is only as accurate as the editors putting it online. When I go to air with a story I have to have two on-the-record sources that are reliable and vetted. Neither of those fit that bill.
I also told her that the social media pack isn’t always right or nice. Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram and Snapchat and all those things are great tools. But you cannot make them your whole life or whole social sphere. That’s not real. If you want a date . . . you should ask someone to their face. If you want answers…you should meet the person. Text on a screen isn’t necessarily real.
“I know that, Dad, but my friend put something on and it wasn’t meant to be on forever . . . “
Here’s where the discussion became the lesson.
“It is forever,” I told her. “There’s an old line from about every HR manual I’ve ever gotten: ‘don’t put anything in writing or in an email you wouldn’t be comfortable letting your mother or grandmother read.’ That’s what you need to know.”
She looked a bit crestfallen.
“I put stuff online a lot,” I told her, “but I think before I hit “post” or “send.” Otherwise it’s there. You could post, delete it a half a second later and someone, somewhere in the world, will have captured that tweet or post and kept it. Once it’s there . . . it’s there for..ev..er!”
“I get that, Dad,” she told me.
“So when you put something stupid like anti-gay or misogynistic or anti-feminist or post nude pictures of yourself or sexual innuendo…the world now has access. Not a few people…the entire world. Once it’s out there, it’s out there for good.”
I ended with what I told her was my best advice: think. Think even before you type. Then hit send only if you are okay with this being your legacy for awhile.
She smiled and said “I know, Dad. You’re right.”
It was then I realized she was the one who’d accomplished her goal and not me. She’d stayed up almost a full hour later than I’d wanted. The crooked grin on her face belied her cause . . . and I just rolled my eyes.
“Get the hell to bed,” I told her. She kissed me on the cheek and ran up the stairs, chuckling.