The first time I learned about the power of social media, I was 19. Facebook just became a happening thing and the world was caught in a frenzied storm of what defined the delicate balance of sharing and over-sharing. The internet finally had a special place to connect deeply with one another through artistic tastes, mundane updates, cat photos, and in-depth descriptions of how drunk we were on the weekend. Where MySpace failed, Facebook soared. In what seemed like the ignition of a flame, we were all keyboard warriors.
Coincidentally, 2004 marked by first full year at Dalhousie University. I was in psychology class when a classmate shared with me the awesome power that social media held against us. "Did you know that prospective employers are starting to look at Facebook profiles?" she said. "You can tell anything about a person from their online profile. Some bosses are even hiring and firing based on what someone puts up on Facebook." This was at once magical and strange to me. It seemed violating to be on display so candidly for organizations that I had not yet become a part of. And yet, it was brilliant all the same.
The Internet is a clever beast. Like an evil mother-in-law, the internet never forgets and rarely forgives. If the Internet was a team of brilliant psychopaths, social media would be the head of the council, the Patrick Bateman of Pierce & Pierce with a bone-white business card in one hand and a knife in the other. Unassuming but dangerous, social media holds all of our secrets, but like the head psychopath, its interest is its own and all can be revealed at the touch of a button.
My Alma Mater had been under fire recently.Though I am about as much of a dentist as I am a squirrel, the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal cannot be ignored, even by a humble B.F.A, such as myself. Of course, I was outraged by the misogynistic nature of a Facebook page that was created for the express purpose of debasing women within the dentistry program, and yes, I do not want a dentist who is a disgusting pig. However, the first thought that ran through my mind wasn't outrage over their sexist remarks. I thought to myself, "These dentistry students have to be the dumbest people I've ever read about." Even after the disgust set in, I hold to that statement.
The power of words is not a thing to be trifled with. Misogynistic remarks can ring through a person's head until the Apocalypse rains fire from the heavens, but when those thoughts are committed to words, you have a new problem. Though we may never persecute the way that people think, we can always persecute actions. When something vile is committed to the printed word, the action soon takes its course, and very often in more disgraceful discourses, the consequences of said actions are not ones to be desired.
The 13 students of Dalhousie Dentistry trusted the Internet's favorite psychopath. They took the business card and ignored the knife, admired the Armani suit and overlooked the blood on its lapel. With a head full of idiocy and a pocket full of dreams, they took their already stupid opinions and published it for a "closed group" to see. They forgot that their charming psychopathic friend, their darling Facebook, has no agenda but its own. Arouse a suspicion for the wrong (or right) person, and with the proper button click, the doors will swing open.
These students are the true villains of the piece, and yes, it is with a "good riddance" that the world welcomes their suspension. It is a deserved one. Yet, for those of us with common sense, there is a greater lesson to be learned, a tale of caution that has been shoved down our throats time and time again; do not trust the Internet. Social media has a funny way of finding out everything about you and holding onto it greedily, grinning, its knife poised and its Oliver Peoples glasses perched upon its nose. Even a closed group has its ways of being opened.
We are responsible for what we put out into the world, both digital and otherwise. Our digital psychopaths holds no qualms about holding us accountable, even when we think that we are safe behind the cozy confines of a cup of coffee and the keyboard. We are never safe from the digital era. As useful and as powerful as it can be, we must never forget that powerful things are often the most precarious. Our nature is plugged in. Thoughts must be conveyed at your own risk. I delight in the thought that those 13 Dalhousie Dentistry students are learning this the hard way.
The written word can undoubtedly change the world we live in. Make yours count for what matters.