Home > Uncategorized > The Internet Never Forgets… a Lesson Impulsive Pre-Teens Need to Learn Along with Right Speech

The Internet Never Forgets… a Lesson Impulsive Pre-Teens Need to Learn Along with Right Speech

December 28, 2020

The NYTimes featured an article this morning by Dan Levin that describes the consequences a Mimi Groves, a white female student in Northern Virginia, faced for an impulsive 3 second posting of a racial slur on social media when she was a Freshman in high school. To make a very long story short, Ms. Groves posted a snapchat video in 2016 after passing her driver’s test. Here’s a description:

Ms. Groves… said, “I can drive,” followed by the slur, to a friend on Snapchat in 2016, when she was a freshman and had just gotten her learner’s permit. It later circulated among some students at Heritage High School, which she and (her black classmate Jimmy) Galligan attended.

The post did not cause much a stir at the time… and Mr. Galligan never saw it at the time. But when he DID see it four years later as both he and Ms. Groves were graduating from high school, he felt it was a good example of the kind of racism he had to endure during his four years at Heritage High.

Throughout her high school years Ms. Groves pursued her passions a cheerleader and won a full paid scholarship to the University of Tennessee, whose college cheerleading program is one of the best in the nation. When Ms. Groves weighed in on the killing of George Floyd with a public Instagram post that urged people to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ms. Groves was stunned to read post later that afternoon from a total stranger questioning her sincerity given her use of “the N-word” in the past. It quickly became clear how the stranger learned of this:

Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.

Ultimately, as Mr. Levin matter-of-factly reports, the University of Tennessee DID revoke its admission offer and instead of attending UT on a full paid scholarship Ms. Groves was attending a nearby community college. And Mr. Galligan?

For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.

“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”

In the end, the story has no clear winners but does have a clear message for adolescents: the internet never forgets and words you post cannot be undone by actions you take or apologies you make years later.

As one who worked in the public spotlight for decades, I can recall times when I made statements that “went viral” in pre-internet days and can recall instances where words I said or wrote were taken out of context in an effort to indicate I was either a hypocrite or inconsistent in the way I treated students. Over the course of my career and as a result of hundreds of blog posts I’ve written over nine years, there is an extensive written record of my thoughts and ideas, some of which have changed over time. But I am VERY fortunate that there is no written record of comments I made impulsively to friends, crude and vulgar jokes I laughed at and may have repeated, or the comments I made behind someone’s back. I daresay that anyone who has lived as long as I have would concur with that statement and, like me, is happy there was no way those things could be captured in writing and repeated.

There is a concept in Buddhism called “Right Speech” that urges those practicing the discipline of the Noble Eightfold Path that Wikipedia synthesizes as follows:

Right Speech: no lying, no rude speech, no telling one person what another says about him to cause discord or harm their relationship.

As a former high school disciplinarian in the pre-internet Dark Ages (1974-1980), I can recall many disputes that occurred between students, between students and teachers, between teachers and administrators, between parents and school staff that resulted from the failure to adhere to this principle. In addition to making students aware that the internet never forgets, it would be equally important to make them aware of the concept of Right Speech and call it to their attention whenever they engage in lies, half-truths, rude speech, or any intentional or unintentional instances where their speech creates discord. In a perfect world, disciplinary action would not be necessary… the awareness that their actions resulted in harm would be sufficient punishment in itself and the growth that comes from self-awareness would be a sufficient reward.

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