How the internet has ruined everything from politics to privacy

Politico has issued what they refer to as a cautionary tale about the modern age of political warfare, specifically in terms of the recent blow up involving Liz Mair and Governor Scott Walker. Their basic warning is that the battlefield has expanded considerably, and candidates are no longer the only targets. Staffers – and pretty much everyone except family members, for now – are equally valid targets. And the list of sins which can bring them down may be dug up by anyone with access to Google.

Her story is a cautionary tale about the perils presidential campaigns face in the age of attack politics. The cross hairs are no longer trained solely on the candidates themselves: Staffers are now also considered fair game for opposition research hits — and campaigns are struggling to react to a world in which the candidate isn’t always the focal point for attacks…

Betsy Hoover, director of digital organizing for the 2012 Obama campaign, said prospective staffers aren’t always expected to do a full scrub of their social media accounts. But they should be aware of — and be prepared to answer for — what’s posted there.

Like it or not, Mair said, the targeting of staffers is simply the reality of modern campaigning.

This may be “the reality” but it’s only the latest sign of just how ludicrously high the bar has been set. If you were to ask the average voter as they sit around the breakfast table, there are likely all manner of things which a candidate might have buried in their past which are so similar to their own lives and those of their neighbors that they wouldn’t pay very much attention. Did a candidate get a DUI back in the 90s? I bet they know someone who did. Did they ever tell an off color joke? Find me someone who didn’t. Even poor judgement in their love lives is something most of the hoi polloi could relate to on some level. But they are all essentially disqualifiers for high office today once the opposition commences digging and hands the information over to the scamps on the internet. That stands in contrast to the days before the web and the emergence of political news coverage being treated as a blood sport. (How long would Kennedy have lasted in 2015 given his personal life?)

Once you add in every potential staffer, donor and associate of elected representatives and candidates the stew pot has grown so vast that it’s virtually impossible not to turn up a few toadstools. With Google, everyone in the game is Perry Mason and any comment which might offend someone turns into leverage for a career death penalty. But this doesn’t just apply to politics. We’ve seen a trend of employers digging into the social media accounts of employees and applicants, peering into every nook and cranny they can find. And that can – and most assuredly will – carry over into every aspect of all of your lives as the age of No Secrets unfolds. Perhaps this is an apt juncture to ask how many of the rest of us would survive such scrutiny and how justified our prosecutors would be in sorting through our dirty laundry.

Lots of people have their own secrets in their personal lives. And in the age of social media, they talk about some of these things on Facebook and elsewhere… things which they probably wouldn’t bring up at work and which would have little to no impact on their job. And I’m not just talking about potentially contentious opinions about politics, religion or sex. I mean the day to day aspects of life which we might not all want blasted onto the company president’s laptop screen. Maybe a young lady has an ill considered romantic engagement after a night out at the club with her friends. Perhaps you shouted some hasty, angry things at a rude stranger which you later regretted. If you work with a bunch of fitness nuts, but you enjoy wolfing down some Big Macs for dinner sometimes, you might not share that with your coworkers. What about the guy who goes home and has three martinis after dinner sometimes and wakes up for work the next day in slow gear but still gets the job done? (Not that I ever do that… in case our boss is reading this column… *cough cough* … you know… I mean other guys.)

Does any of that sound familiar to you, or perhaps as it relates to allies, some family members, friends or associates you have a good relationship with? Should any of it cost them their jobs as soon as some wag discovers a tweet about it and sends it to their boss? But for the huge majority of younger students and adults who spend at least part of their lives on social media, that’s a reality now. And then there’s Meerkat. Have you heard about it? People will be streaming real time video of most of their lives. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s all a big party in our political Game of Thrones when we dig up every last morsel about each person running for office. And then it trickles down to their staffers. Meanwhile, from the other end of the spectrum, employers start thinking that’s a grand idea and begin rooting around in the private hours of their workers. We’ve managed to take the internet and turn it into the biggest game of You’d Better Be Perfect which could ever be imagined. Of course, it’s probably too late to unring that bell, but it seems to confirm something I’ve been gnawing on for more than a decade.

Eventually the internet will ruin everything.

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