No sooner had 31-year-old Ethan Czahor been hired by Jeb Bush than certain old, unsavory tidbits vanished from his Twitter feed. In January 2010, when he was 25, the Bush PAC’s new technology lead had tweeted some tasteless commentary about gay men at his gym. A couple months earlier, Czahor had made several off-color jokes about “sluts,” sex and drunk-driving.
It’s not exactly the kind of behavior you want to see from the guy who’s supposed to save your party’s digital image — which is perhaps why news of Czahor’s deleted tweets has rocketed around the Internet like some gate-suffixed scandal. But who are we kidding, honestly? This is the new normal, in politics and every other field: Everyone of Czahor’s generation and younger will come with some kind of digital dirt, some ancient tweet to be deleted or beer-pong portrait to untag. As Czahor tweeted yesterday:
Well … yeah, okay.
At 31, Czahor is on the cusp of a generation that lived its teenage and young-adult years almost entirely online, where their antics were often public, regrettable and permanently archived. Myspace launched just as Czahor was turning 20, and Facebook went national in late 2006, when he was 24. Czahor was still in college in eastern Pennsylvania when he started his now-infamous Twitter account; at that point, only three years after the site’s founding, most users hadn’t figured out what Twitter was even for.
That doesn’t necessarily excuse Czahor’s tweets, which — to be clear — were appalling. But 20-something kids right out of school aren’t necessarily pondering the long-term impact of their posts. There was the case of 27-year-old Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, who was tagged in a Facebook party pic groping a cut-out of Hilary Clinton in 2008. (Favreau had to contact Clinton with an apology.) There was the John McCain aide who resigned after a controversial anti-Obama clip was found on his private Twitter feed.
Even Benjamin Cole, the congressional adviser who resigned over racist Facebook posts uncovered last week, seems not to have understood the concept of the digital footprint: As early as 2010, and as late as this year, Cole had posted gross and unfathomable screeds to his Facebook page.
Cole is 38; Czahor is 31 — both of them, at least, came to social media as adults. We can’t exactly say the same thing of today’s 13- and 14- and 15-year-olds, all bae-ing their hearts out under their real, Google-able names. According to data from the Pew Research Center, modern teens are posting more information publicly, not less — though there are signs that many understand the longevity, and the consequences, of their digital footprint. In 2012, more than half of teens said they decided not to post something because it could eventually make them look bad.
Of course, that still leaves something like 15 million kids posting whatever they want, whenever they want, since smartphones allow them more or less constant Internet access. By the time they grow up and run for public office, opposition research will be a defunct industry: You don’t need to dig through property records and newspaper clippings when you can just pull a CTRL+F on somebody’s tweets.
Then again, if oversharing’s the new normal, maybe we’ll grow accustomed to youthful Internet indiscretions like these. As a society, we’ve already adapted to a thousand other impositions of the digital age — the phone out at dinner, the constant availability, the rise (and fall) of the “thank you” e-mail — that bending the rules for a few tweets doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
I’m reminded of an acquaintance who’s long dreamed of running for political office and maintains an active Instagram of simpering, duck-faced party pics. By the time she runs, in 10 years or 20, will those photos air in attack ads? Or will voters be into it?
There’s a third option too, of course: Maybe, by 2030 or so, we’ll all be deeply beholden to digital reputation-scrubbing services. That industry’s booming already: Companies like Go Fish Digital will scrub your Facebook of lewd photos, comb through your old tweets, and otherwise make sure your Google results look squeaky-clean.
It almost makes you wonder why Czahor didn’t contact one of those firms before he became the Bush PAC’s CTO. For a digital messiah, the guy seems … kind of slow.
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