Revenge of the Retweet

Revenge of the Retweet

By Rose Eveleth

Today we try to figure out what happens when our future presidential candidates have thousands of Tweets and Tumblr posts and Instagrams in their online record. 


 What happens, when today’s teens start running for office? When their entire internet history is there, searchable, for us to read? What if these teens Tweet something at 15 that they might regret at 45? Do we learn to accept that their opinions have changed? Or do we go through every candidate's entire social media history to find dirt on them? Does that tactic still work in the future? Or do we all just throw up our hands and admit that teens have bad opinions and that hopefully those opinions have changed? 


 To find out, I talked to a real live young person with political ambitions, Eve Zhurbinskiy a student at George Washington University. She describes her own social media strategy, and how she never Tweets without thinking about how it might come back to bite her. She also talks about going back and deleting Facebook posts and even in one case her entire Tumblr because she thought it might be used against her.


 And that’s not paranoid, I also talk to someone who tracks that kind of thing among politicians. Josh Stewart from the Sunlight Foundation explains what Politwoops is and why they’re tracking the deleted Tweets of politicians. 


 And to round things out this episode I talked to someone who’s got a lot of experience managing digital campaigns for today’s politicians. Laura Olin was one of the first hires for Obama’s 2012 digital team, and she not only ran the Obama Tumblr, but she also actually Tweeted as the President. 


 Throughout the episode we discuss all kinds of questions about how we think about and forgive humans. 


 In March of this year, a State Supreme Court justice from Wisconsin named Rebecca Bradley issued an apology for some columns that she wrote 24 years ago in a student newspaper. In the columns she referred to gay people as “queers” and called people with AIDS “degenerates who basically commit suicide through their behavior.” She also said that it would be better to get AIDS than cancer, because, quote “those afflicted with the politically correct disease will be getting all of the funding.” And that abortion is like the Holocaust and slavery. 


 Bradley says that she was, quote “frankly embarrassed at the content and tone of what I wrote those many years ago” but she also said that when she wrote them, she was “a very young student.” Now the release of these 24 year old columns wasn’t random, the organization that found the columns unveiled them just a month before voters in Wisconsin would vote on whether or not Bradley should retain her seat on the court. 


 People who wanted Bradley off the court, said that the comments in the columns were so hateful that time didn’t really matter. People who wanted Bradley to say said that she had grown and learned since then, and did not still hold those beliefs. (To be clear, there was also a contingent of people who supported Bradley because they still do hold those beliefs). 


 So, voters in Wisconsin could decide. And they decided to keep her, Bradley won her seat back. So you could interpret that as evidence that past transgressions can be forgiven, right? 


 So this brings us to one version of this future. A future in which voters learn to approach their candidates as flawed individuals, people who have made missteps, people who can change their mind. This isn’t to say that we let people off the hook for their past, but rather that we are okay with them saying “I was wrong, and here’s how I’ve changed for the better.”

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