Kids who express unfortunate thoughts while still figuring things out are now being held to adult standards of appropriateness.
On Monday night, Villanova men’s basketball star Donte DiVincenzo was basking in his team’s second national championship in three years when he got a question he wasn’t expecting. DiVincenzo, who had just poured in an unexpected 31 points to lead the Wildcats to victory, was asked about a tweet posted to his account seven years earlier, in which he quoted a song lyric from rapper Meek Mill that used the word “n***a.”
“I didn’t do that,’’ said DiVincenzo, who is white. “It’s my account, yes,’’ he said. “But I never remember doing that.”
So on the greatest night of his life, a 21-year old Final Four MVP was forced to answer questions about a tweet he allegedly wrote seven years ago, when he was 14 years old. (In subsequent days, more old tweets from DiVincenzo’s account were unearthed, in which he discusses scatological topics and uses insensitive language about gays.)
The most disturbing part of the deep-dive into DiVincenzo’s Twitter history isn’t the use of the racially derisive song lyric he quoted when he was a child, which would seem to be an issue best worked out with his black teammates. In fact, comedian Chris Rock actually has a detailed bit about when white people can use the “n-word:” exemptions can be allowed only after checking with your “consulate” of black friends, and only if the word is being used in a hip-hop lyric. “It’s got to be in the song, though,” Rock warns.
The more depressing aspect of the tweet’s exhumation is that it appears in the age of social media, children are now on the record all the time. Kids who express unfortunate thoughts while still figuring things out (or even thoughts acceptable at the time that become less acceptable over the years) are now being held to adult standards of appropriateness. And as they get older, they may never be able to escape things said as a juvenile. (There are apps that automatically delete old tweets, but few people use them, and even adults have figured out that anything on the internet is typically there forever.)
In just the last eight years, the number of Twitter users has increased more than tenfold, while the number of Facebook users has grown from 100 million in 2008 to over 2.1 billion at the end of 2017. The young teenagers who adopted these technologies early, thinking social media would be a good way to communicate with friends, are now leaving college and heading for the workplace, while their childhood musings remain in cyberspace for the world to see.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
The potential damage this could cause was expertly predicted, as usual, by The Onion satirical newspaper, which in 2012 declared that “Due to Facebook, every potential candidate for the 2040 presidential race, no matter how smart or accomplished, is now completely unelectable.” According to the gag, Democrats in need of a presidential candidate had begun searching basements and creepy backyard sheds for “Someone who was kidnapped at a young enough age that they have no online presence.”
(This was, of course, before America elected a septuagenarian with a regrettable online presence.)
In fact, children’s thoughts are typically so horrifying, a type of therapeutic entertainment has cropped up in which adults stand in front of a crowd and read embarrassing things they wrote as teenagers. A decade ago, I got in the act and posted a love letter on my blog that I wrote at age 16 after being dumped by a girl. Needless to say, the results are mortifying; if you simply read lines like “Just like I needed my brain to think or my lungs to breathe, I needed you,” and “If not liking me was a crime, the entire female gender would be in prison,” it should disavow you of any notion that juveniles should have the privilege of posting anything that can be read worldwide and embarrass them in perpetuity.
Of course, this runs counter to the prevailing idea that because of social media, children are more informed and sophisticated than kids who grew up just decades ago. People act as if Alexander Graham Bell, who changed the world with rudimentary tools like electricity and copper wire, was, in comparison, a rube because he was denied the pleasure of watching YouTube videos of grown men playing Fortnite for hours on end.
One of the great joys of childhood is being able to learn and grow without the glare of the public on you. To be able to find yourself and learn from your mistakes without subjecting yourself to bands of cackling jackals delighting in your mistakes.
Further, an even greater joy is to be able to shed the awkwardness and pain of your youth on your way to adulthood. Let’s ease up on kids that tweet childish things, even after they grow into productive adults. Instead, let’s save our enmity for the grown-ups who tweet juvenilia from the White House.
Christian Schneider is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @Schneider_CM
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2GEX1eD