Running For Office Someday? Your Facebook Page May Say Otherwise
Those images on your Facebook page may come back to haunt you if you decide to run for office someday.
If you’re young and have political ambitions, you might want to be careful what you post on your Facebook page:
Politics today is rife with examples of candidates having to explain why they were posing shirtless for pictures poolside with a skimpily clad woman (Representative Aaron Schock of Illinois), simulating sex acts on a toy (the Congressional candidate Krystal Ball of Virginia), or carousing on Halloween night dressed as a ladybug (the Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell of Delaware).
“I think all of us know that politicians would have to confront the Facebook skeletons in their closet, but that it would be in 20 years, not in two years,” said Anil Dash, a technology consultant and pioneer of the blogosphere when it was just beginning in the late 1990s. “By the time the next generation comes into power, they’ll just assume this is how it’s always been.”
And the list of embarrassing moments caught on film goes on. Blake Farenthold, a Republican candidate for Congress in Texas, had to defend himself after pictures surfaced right before the election of him wearing pajamas with little yellow ducks as he stood grinning next to a woman in black lingerie.
A Congressional race in Ohio became awkward after Rich Iott, the Republican candidate, was shown in a photo dressed up as a Nazi for a World War II re-enactment.
The candidates themselves are not the only ones being confronted with images from the past. In 2008, photographs of President Obama’s speechwriter Jon Favreau groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Rodham Clinton made their way onto blogs. This year, in the Minnesota race for governor, Facebook photos of the Republican candidate’s under-age son drinking alcohol were disseminated, forcing the candidate, Tom Emmer, to put out a statement on the matter. He called the episode “a serious mistake” and said his son had paid the consequences.
With so many examples to point to already, could this mean that drunken Facebook photos of the presidential candidates of 2024 and of the Supreme Court justice nominees of 2040 are already out there?
Probably, and the experience that Virginia’s Krystal Ball had this year is likely to be repeated many times before the body politic decides how to handle the fact that people do somewhat embarrassing things when they’re young:
Ms. Ball, a Democrat, was stunned when she found out that six-year-old party pictures were circulating online. In them, she was wearing a Santa cap and provocative lacy hosiery while holding and putting her mouth around a sex toy. The story went viral, getting attention from news media outlets as varied as Gawker and National Public Radio.
“I think I was the No. 3 most-Googled term in the whole world over some stupid gag I played when I was 22 years old,” Ms. Ball said in a phone interview on Wednesday, the day after she lost her election.
While her opponent already had a comfortable advantage in the Republican-leaning district by the time the pictures came out, Ms. Ball’s experience raises the question of whether American culture will ever evolve to the point where voters tolerate pictures of future leaders in various states of inebriation and undress.
Ms. Ball, a certified public accountant, has used the experience as an opportunity to warn of a potential chilling effect on tomorrow’s leaders. Candidates, she argued, should not be shamed out of a race because of mistakes made in their youth. “I had a whole lot of people who were older than me saying they were feeling grateful that Facebook and digital cameras weren’t around when they were growing up,” she said. “I am not the only person with stupid photos out there, and I would hate to have some young man or young woman think, ‘I can’t run for office because I did something stupid at a party however long ago.’ “
This would seem to be especially true given the fact that, before the era of digital photography, Facebook, and Twitter there were doubtless plenty of politicians who had engaged in some sort of stupid behavior or another when they were younger. The reason we didn’t learn about it is because people didn’t talk about, and there was no photographic evidence that would follow them around for the rest of their lives. On some level, it seems unfair that people who are now in their 20s would be held to a different standard just because someone took a picture with their cell phone once, especially since they probably aren’t doing anything worse than their older peers did when they were young.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that young people need to realize that a digital image lasts forever and that what they do when they’re 19 may come back to haunt them when they’re 39. That picture of you drinking out of a beer bong may not exactly be the image you want to convey when you get older.