By now mostly everyone in America has seen or heard of the reprehensible and racist video a female UCLA student made recently in which she disparaged and mocked Asians.
The video, which was released on YouTube and targeted against Asian students following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, not only has angered millions of people the world over, but it's raised the typical First Amendment questions, even prompting a NY Times editorial last week which both condemned it and defended it on free speech grounds. The student, Alexandra Wallace, has since issued an apology for her "inappropriate" behavior. "I cannot explain what possessed me to approach the subject as I did, and if I could undo it, I would," she said.
Wallace, who has since decided she will leave UCLA despite the school's decision not to discipline her, said she's leaving because of the "the harassment of my family, the publishing of my personal information, death threats and being ostracized from an entire community." All because she was trying to be "humorous," she said regretfully.
But Wallace's infamous video points to the bigger problem in our country today, and one which explains why she and countless others do irreparable damage to themselves and others with their humiliating, virally-spread diatribes. The answer is simple: young people today are so seduced by the power of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in giving them an outlet through which to share every dumb thought, ignorant rant and embarrassing photo. Give them a webcam and all hell can and will break loose. They're desperate-for-attention show-offs who want to be perceived as funny, cool and relevant. Instead, they appear stupid, foolish and irresponsible.
What's most troubling is that the Internet has created a generation of reckless cowboys and cowgirls. They post constantly, nonsensically and without any concern for the future. They never stop to think about those who might one day see their moronic rantings, photos and videos, i.e college admissions counselors, potential employers, future business associates. These days, when we can search Google and get an instant window into a person's entire public profile, this sort of behavior is very dangerous and can have lasting impact.
To be sure, Wallace has likely screwed herself out of further college opportunities, future jobs and probably lost some friends, her dignity and brought shame on herself and her family. All because that cigar-chompin' webcam was bellowing, 'Kid, I'm gonna make you a star!'
To be sure, kids will be kids, and they will do dumb things and actually need to be a little reckless and irresponsible. It's a part of growing up and learning how to eventually behave like adults. But the problem today is that, unlike a generation ago, when we could make our mistakes in relative private with only our close pals and family knowing it, the Internet creates a 24/7 worldwide stage where every misstep can be viewed by millions in a matter of seconds. Young people today live in a goldfish bowl, and when they fall, as Wallace has, it spirals out of control and there's no place to hide. The Internet is a very unforgiving place. Once you land there, there's no going back.
So I say to our nation's youth, be very careful about what you say, write and post on these sites. And that includes pictures. No future college admissions department or future employer will be impressed with your drunken pics and your filthy language. Rather, they'll want to see you as smart, mature and responsible. But if you must exercise your freedom of immature expression without having to worry about self-censorship, then at least minimize your risk by being less public. Change your Facebook and Twitter names so that your last name is not included, and therefore won't appear in Google searches. Also, don't use your Facebook email address on resumes or school and work applications. You can be searched that way as well. Create a separate email address just for "official" business. And for God's sake, the next time you to find the urge to act out foolishly on YouTube, grab a few friends and play Charades instead.
Follow Andy Ostroy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndyOstroy