Do You People Not Know What the Internet Is?

If you're reading this, I'm going to go ahead and assume you know what the Internet is — or, at the very least, someone on your staff was savvy enough to hit CTRL-P and put this "blog post" on your desk.

Now that you're aware of the Internet, maybe you'll take the time to realize what the Internet actually is: the combination of a publishing platform with a negligible cost and the world's best information-distribution system. This should scare you.

I'm sure you pine for the good old days, when your stupid jokes, strange verbal tics and occasional retreats into racism were only a danger to you when you were in front of reporters or on television. Boy howdy, it ain't like that no more. Everyone has a camera, everyone has a microphone and anyone with an Internet connection is a reporter.

Part of me thought that, after the whole Macaca debacle, most of you would wake up and realize the dawning of the Age of Embarrassment. Alas, I was wrong. When Chip Saltsman, a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent out a CD with a song called "Barack the Magic Negro", he probably thought nothing of it. Maybe even, deep in his mind, he thought it would help. Not so much. Whether the song is just unfunny parody or actually racist isn't important. The words "saltsman" and "racist" bring up 21,000 pages on Google. The Internet is an echo chamber for your mistakes, and it doesn't understand subtlety.

As much as I'd like to believe this is just an issue for those troglodytic Republicans and their disgust with technology, the Democrats are just as bad, if not worse. President-elect Obama may have used the Internet to hit a home run, but his bitter comments used the same network of routers and fiber optic cables to undermine his advances in Pennsylvania. Whether there was any truth to his argument or not, he let his guard down in what could have been a private gathering, if there was such a thing anymore. And don't get me started on Jeremiah Wright and YouTube.

The difference isn't so much partisan as it is generational. Everyone is capable of making mistakes, but the older generation seems not to understand the power of the Internet in picking up and amplifying comments. I was at a fundraiser a few months ago and a high-ranking member of Congress made what was essentially a rape joke in what he probably assumed was a private affair for the well-to-do. It was benign (as benign as a joke about non-consensual sex can be), but would have looked bad.

Let me make it simple for you: Washington, D.C., may be full of BlackBerrys, but the rest of America is full of iPhones. For those who don't know, from an iPhone someone can take video of you saying or doing something stupid. Edit that video. Post it to the Internet and send the link to everyone they know. All in about two minutes.

The Internet is not your friend. You may have an ActBlue account and you may even have a nifty (though staff-written) blog. But so does everyone else. Any time you, as a public official, feel the desire to say something stupid, just repeat this simple mantra:

Everyone has a microphone. Everyone has a camera. Anyone with an Internet connection is a reporter.

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