If and when I run for office again, and if and when I am taken seriously enough that someone more effective and influential than the editor of Now magazine’s website decides to try and dig up some embarrassing photos of me (sorry Josh, but seriously, that was the best you could do?), they will not have a difficult time.
I belong to a generation that has grown up on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. (Heck, I’m pretty sure I even have a neglected MySpace page floating around somewhere…oh yeah, there it is.) As a result, many of my most candid and ill-advised moments have been and will continue to be documented and made public. 99% of the time, I’m not even the one posting them. The tools of the social web allow anyone to not only upload photos and videos of me, but also to tag me in them for easy searching and indexing.
Exploring someone’s online presence has become a way of doing a quick-and-easy background check. Often, maybe even most of the time, that’s a perfectly legitimate thing. If a political candidate has, oh, I don’t know, made homophobic remarks, or dropped LSD while driving, or gotten naked with a bunch of minors (all entirely hypothetical examples off the top of my head, of course) those are probably things I want to know about, and they may or may not influence whether or not I vote for that person.
But we should also, I think, back away from the assumption that the second someone uncovers some photos of a candidate goofing around with friends or demonstrating a momentary lapse in judgment that automatically means the candidate must resign. Commenting on the recent resignation of BC NDP candidate Ray Lam, even NDP Leader Carole James seemed a bit uncomfortable with how things went down. “It’ll be interesting to watch politics over the next 10 to 15 years,” she said, “when you have an entire generation of young people who’ve grown up with their lives public on Facebook and on Twitter. It’ll be very interesting to see how that shifts.”
Hopefully it will shift like this. If someone has demonstrated a pattern of bad judgment, or done or said something highly objectionable, they should answer for it. But one or two “gotcha” photos? Should that really disqualify one from public service? Ultimately it’s up to voters to decide, but I tend to think not.