Politics in the Age of MySpace and Facebook

myspace.jpgRecently, I was interviewed for an article in the Globe and Mail about the young teenage father-to-be involved in the media circus surrounding vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s pregnant teenage daughter. I believe that the media should restrain itself from prying further into Palin’s daughter’s private life, as well as that of the father-to-be. He was referred to only as “Levi” by the media until recently, when a few media entities and bloggers started identifying him by his full name. I don’t believe he should be identified by his last name unless he consents to it. His identity is of little relevance to the issues in the campaign.

Apparently, he had a MySpace page. According to the Globe and Mail:

According to his MySpace page, he loved camping, fishing and riding dirt bikes. He wasn’t much for babies (“I don’t want kids”) or political optics: “Ya fuck with me I’ll kick ass,” the page says. . . .

The Alaskan teen’s MySpace page was taken down yesterday, but the damage had been done.

“I’m a little bit surprised the campaign didn’t ask him to take these pages down,” said Daniel Solove, author of The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. “It’s become a very distracting sideshow.”

Information about his identity and MySpace page are all over the Internet and media now. More and more, we’ll be seeing the media and bloggers mining the social network profiles of the kids of politicians. I think that this is unfortunate, but it is hard to stop people from gawking at a public website, especially when a politician’s child falls into the vortex of a media storm. The fact that Levi’s MySpace page remained publicly available for so long indicates that there is far too little thought and attention to social network websites and the Internet by parents and others outside of what I call “Generation Google” — the teenagers today who are posting more and more personal information online, which will be available to anybody doing a Google search.

If Sarah Palin and the McCain campaign knew about the pregnancy, they certainly must have expected that with today’s media, it would sooner or later find its way into the news. With that risk in mind, why not try to make sure that public MySpace or Facebook pages of those involved are removed before the media frenzy begins? This strikes me as a fairly substantial oversight. The teenagers involved in this incident are far from ready to confront the media frenzy they are now subjected to. Somebody should have told Levi to remove his profile (or make it accessible only to his friends) long before the story broke. Perhaps the McCain campaign. Perhaps Sarah Palin. Perhaps his parents. This illustrates part of the problem facing members of Generation Google — their parents, teachers, and others who advise them are not well-versed enough in what’s going on.

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