The Internet – you never know where or when stuff will turn up [Editorial]

April 04, 2013|Editorial from The Aegis

It's been more than 25 years since Douglas H. Ginsburg asked that his nomination to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice be withdrawn.

The prospective high court justice nominated by Ronald Reagan, it turned out, smoked marijuana and ended up admitting to it. Such were the times that there was a vast political divide on the subject of recreational marijuana. The Reagan-Ginsburg side was squarely against it; the opposition joked that everyone knew Ginsberg had smoked marijuana, but their Ginsberg, beat poet Alan Ginsberg, was a standard-bearer of the American counter culture.

Times change.

A few years later, Bill Clinton would be elected president despite his having acknowledged having tried marijuana (though he made the rather sheepish claim to have not inhaled). Then came George W. Bush, who acknowledged having overcome a cocaine habit. Then there was Barack Obama, who acknowledged having smoked marijuana in his youth, even as he has been more secretive about his adulthood use of tobacco.

Just as attitudes about recreational marijuana use have shifted, so may have attitudes about posting naked pictures of one's self or friends on the Internet change in the years to come.

Society in 2013 isn't particularly prudish, but neither is it especially warm to people who are so cavalier as to end up with their naked likeness exposed for anyone with Internet access to see.

The subject comes up again in the aftermath of last week's incident in which photographs of naked teens police believe are from Harford County, showed up on the vast social exchange that is Facebook. Facebook has rules against such things, but it doesn't search for them; instead it relies on users and authorities to report them. When a report was made regarding last week's case, the images were pulled from Facebook.

Problem solved, right? Not necessarily.

As Eddie Hopkins of the Harford County Sheriff's Office put it: "As we all know once the digital image is out there it doesn't go away and the person depicted has very little control over what is done with the photos once they are out of the control of the sender."

A digital image that's posted anywhere on the Internet can be saved to the desktop of any computer whose user happens across it. It can be squirreled away on that computer forever. Or it can be posted elsewhere on the Internet.

It's kind of like stories about youthful indiscretions with marijuana, except digital pictures constitute a level of proof beyond foggy legends of college parties.

Possibly in a generation, no one will be particularly concerned about such images, but then again, certain kinds of youthful indiscretions are easier to forgive than others. Compromising photographs could become the deciding factors in job consideration, college admission or even a future run for president or a shot at a judgeship.

Everyone makes mistakes, especially in youth, but parents would do well in this era, when computer networking remains a relatively new aspect of human socialization, to encourage their children to be very careful about what kinds of things they share over the Internet.

There's no way of knowing who'll end up finding it days, weeks or even years from now.

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