Kids Say the Darndest Things in Their Blogs
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Like many 21-year-olds, Jared Watts gripes in his blog. He rails against his boss, his job and the misery of dealing with customers at the Cingular Wireless store where he works.
"Enter Middle Aged Wench of Doom," Watts wrote, recounting a tense dialogue with a rude customer demanding to pay her bill. He also complains about company policies he finds "abusive to the customer" and "inappropriate," some of which "violated my personal beliefs."
Watts's views about his employer appear to contradict those of his father, Wayne Watts, who is senior vice president and associate general counsel of AT&T Corp., Cingular's parent company. The senior Watts, whom Jared credits with landing him the job, is defending AT&T's customer service record before regulators as the company tries to acquire BellSouth Corp.
Unlike their parents, today's youth have grown up in the age of public disclosure. Keeping an Internet diary has become de rigueur; social lives and private thoughts are laid bare. For parents in high-profile positions, however, it means their children can exploit a generational disconnect to espouse their own points of view, or expose private details perhaps their parents wish they would not.
"All the things I've typed in my blog I've argued with my father about," like whether mergers hurt customers, something Jared Watts said he thinks does inconvenience consumers. But publicly criticizing his company is not the same as a personal attack on the father who supports him "100 percent," he said.
His father, speaking through an AT&T spokesman, said: "I care very much for my son. And like many fathers and sons, we have differences of opinion on many subjects."
What gets aired can go beyond philosophical differences.
The gossip site Wonkette.com has made a minor sport out of exposing what newsmakers' offspring have done on the Web. There was Tennessee Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker's daughter's Facebook page, for example, which showed her locking lips with another woman and dancing in what appeared to be her underwear.
Of the 12 million bloggers on the Internet, 54 percent are younger than 30, according to a July study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That number may not include the dozens of other sites that allow for self-disclosure and picture-posting without necessarily following a blog format, like AIM Pages, Facebook and MySpace, which has 100 million member profiles.
California Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray's younger-than-21 daughter Briana posted a series of pictures of herself on MySpace, including one where she poses with a cooler full of Miller High Life. Last fall, NBC star Tim Russert's son, Luke, posted a photo of on Facebook of himself clutching a cup and posing with four bikini-clad women in a hot tub.
Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call discovered Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's son, Jonathan, declaring membership in the "Jonathan Frist appreciation for 'Waking up White People' Group" on his Facebook page. The Vanderbilt University student also claimed membership in a group where there were "No Jews Allowed. Just Kidding. No seriously."
All were replaced or taken down after gaining Internet notoriety.
According to the Pew study, among those who blog, 52 percent said they do so to express themselves creatively, and 50 percent said they blog to document and share their personal experiences.
"Many of them don't think they are committing public acts by posting a blog, but the power of search is that it makes it pretty darn easy to find," said Lee Rainey, founding director of Pew. Parents and increasingly school systems are warning children about the implications of posting things on MySpace, for example, he said. But parents are only starting to become aware of their own vulnerability, he said. "Things that used to be inside familiars or within a small audience now have a global audience."
For example, a Google search of the terms "Wayne Watts AT&T" returns a top link to a blog called "Corporate Tool," which praises the job Watts has been doing to secure the merger between AT&T and BellSouth. The top comment in response to that entry is from Jared Watts -- "haha wayne watts is my dad!" -- with a link to Jared Watts's blog and its ramblings and complaints.
Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.