When we discuss the damaging permanency of the errors and mistakes online, its usually within the context of young people and their lack of discretion on social networking sites. But – in recent events – its pretty clear this lesson could and probably should also apply to adults as well, especially with high-profiled political figures.
For the sake of argument, consider the following examples of what not to do in the age of 24/7 information. Of course, these scenarios are strictly hypothetical:
Scenario 1: Imagine you decided to tour the country as
a publicity stunt an opportunity to explore the nation’s rich historical sites. A reporter comes up to you and asks something like…oh, I don’t know…”What have you learned from your trip?”. In your response, you provide a mangled and improperly framed reference to an important story from American history (For fun, let’s say Paul Revere’s famous ride). It’s probably not the best idea to go on national TV shortly afterwards refusing to see the error of your ways. Even if some historians think you may have serendipitously stumbled on to something, you should probably stop pretending that you possess some highly sophisticated and more deeply learned account of history that most Americans – with the exception, perhaps, of scholars – don’t have. Instead, it would probably be cleaner if you simply declare “I made a mistake. I was caught off guard, did a little flubbing and might’ve been off on a couple of key points. Oh, and I certainly don’t endorse my supporters trying to edit a Wikipedia entry as an effort to validate my incorrect view of things.”
While it’s true some people would still attack you for nobly admitting your mistake, wouldn’t you feel a little better by telling the truth?
Scenario 2: You find yourself on Twitter
flirting with young people connecting with your constituents. Though married and apparently expecting a child, pictures of your private parts are sent to one of your followers. Once the story breaks, you immediately go into damage control, launching a furious campaign to prove your innocence. You claim your account is hacked. You hire a lawyer to investigate said hacking. You make an appearance on national TV. But after all sorts of evidence surfaces proving the contrary, you change your story. You admit the genitalia in the photos does, in fact, belong to you.
The story was embarassing enough. But couldn’t additional embarassment from being caught in a bold face lie have been avoided in the first place? Wouldn’t it have been a little more admirable to admit: “Yes, I flirted online and things got a little out of control. Though I’m not the first person to ever commit and offense of this nature, I recognize the wrongness of it all. I apologize to my wife and to my constituents.”?
Again, problem solved.
Of course there are plenty more examples I could use. I mean, focusing on the gaffes/lies from people like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Joe Biden – for instance – would give me enough to write a book. So this post isn’t solely about Palin and Weiner.
That notwithstanding, need I remind you, people: we are dealing with a new day in age here. We find ourselves in a time where our words and actions are not so easily deleted once released to the world. Any attempts we make to sanitize the truth will usually get defeated by the truth itself. That’s why I think it’s important – and indeed, healthy – to simply own up to you mistakes. Doing so will initially sting of embarassment, but it will eventually nullify the ability of others to publicly shame you; especially if you acknowledge your wrongness in a spirit of humility. But defending a lie until the very end can (and usually does) carry with it long-term disadvantages.
At the very least, avoid posting pictures of your penis on the Internet and don’t ramble on cluelessly about American history. From there, it should be smooth sailing.