• Now our social media history is coming back to bite us. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Why should we care what someone posted on social media 10 years ago? Does it reflect the kind of person they are today?
Osman Faruqi

6 Jun 2016 - 2:06 PM  UPDATED 6 Jun 2016 - 2:06 PM

The internet truly is an incredible piece of modern infrastructure (and not just because it has delivered you this article). Never before have we had so much information at our fingertips, including access to the vast libraries of human history and culture, or the ability to communicate directly with anyone around the world.

At the same time though, it has made recording every indiscretion, mistake and idiotic utterance of our youth easier to record and archive forever.

In this federal election campaign, for example, many candidates, on all sides of politics, have come unstuck due to the discovery of past social media posts either demonstrating views that diverge from current party policy, or more seriously, posts that express racist and offensive attitudes.

One candidate faced calls to resign after it emerged he had made offensive comments on a Facebook group opposed to the Stolen Generation apology nearly a decade ago. Another was criticised for swearing online and tweeting negatively about Tony Abbott and Gina Rinehart seven years ago.

As more members of my generation get involved in politics and run for office, or put themselves forward in any kind of high profile position, these sorts of stories are likely to become more common.

Now our social media history is coming back to bite us. 

We were the first generation to grow up online. As the internet and social media matured and refined itself, evolving from simple chat rooms to MSN Messenger and MySpace, before settling on Facebook and Twitter, so did we. But for the first time in human history our emotional and mental development was recorded for our friends, and now the world, to seen.

In many ways we were the guinea pigs in a giant social experiment testing the boundaries of privacy and mass communication. As teenagers we were too busy coming up with MSN screen names designed to attract the attention of our high school crushes to pay attention to the fact that basically every thing we put online, whether it was photos or dumb comments, was being recorded and archived forever.

Now our social media history is coming back to bite us.

When I ran as a candidate in the last NSW state election I fully expected political opponents to trawl through my substantive Facebook and Twitter posts, hunting for any indiscretions, photos of me acting over exuberantly at university parties and silly political comments from my more revolutionary teenage years. 

Alas, the attacks never emerged. Maybe I did a good job blocking Young Labor members from Facebook, or perhaps I just wasn’t considered a serious enough target. But the recent stories in this campaign of candidates coming under fire for their historic posting shows that there is a fair amount of dirt digging going on, and that the media thinks social media comments from a decade ago a worth reporting.

But are they?

It can be argued that if someone expresses offensive or racist views that goes to the heart of their character and the kind of person, or political candidate, they are. But, without condoning the content of the posts, do angry rants on Facebook published years ago actually accurately tell us much about a person in 2016? Surely there current positions, values and attitudes are more important than words they used in an ancient online debate.

Everyone with a social media account has said something stupid on it once that they’ve regretted. 

And does anyone actually care that a candidate swore at Tony Abbott on Twitter back in 2009? We constantly demand more “real people” get involved in politics, but when they act real and not like weird politico-robot-droids, the response is one of swift, confected outrage.

It’s reductive and frustrating, not just because it distracts from more serious issues, but because every single person has done it. Everyone with a social media account has said something stupid on it once that they’ve regretted. And for those of us who grew up with the internet, we’ve done it more than once.

I used to think the whole phenomenon of trawling through someone’s social media history to dig up dirt and then feeding it to the media would never really take off because of how ubiquitous social media is. Like the concept of mutually assured destruction, why would someone set off the first bomb, when they know they could just as easily be attacked?

Turns out I was wrong, but that doesn’t make the whole situation less dumb or hypocritical. I would much rather we spent our time and energy getting outraged about the stupid things politicians and other influential people say now, rather than statements from a decade they’ve disavowed themselves from.

Love the story? Follow the author on Twitter: @Oz_f

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