I’m sure by now most people have heard about Pres. Obama’s “jackass” comment, in reference to Kanye West’s hijacking of Taylor Swift’s moment in the sun. Let me just say, I don’t know anything about Kanye West, and if I have ever listened to his music, it was within the context of Muzak, and I didn’t know it was him. The same is true of Taylor Swift, except I do know she sings Country music. I saw the video, and yes, what Mr. West did was a jackass thing to do. Second, I think it’s necessary to point out that Pres. Obama is probably not the first president to use what some might classify as a swear word. Pres. Bush used the s-word when talking to Tony Blair in, what he thought, was an unmiked conversation. From what I’ve heard, LBJ had the capacity to make sailors blush, but that is entirely hearsay from one of my (very) Republican relatives from Texas. This raises the question about whether or not the president is allowed to have opinions such as, “So-an-so is a jackass,” and if so, is he free to voice them in private, off-the-record conversations. My personal opinion is yes and yes. However, I don’t see that as the real issue here.
What is more troubling here is the manner in which this “news” got out to the public. The comment was overheard by an employee of ABC (while Pres. Obama was being interviewed by CNBC, nonetheless), who immediately sent the following message out via Twitter:
Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a ‘jackass’ for his outburst at the VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential.
Apparently, this particular tweet spread like wild fire, and I’m sure, as is the fashion these days, apologies were demanded, talk shows will have a heyday for a week or so, and Twitter will laugh all the way to the bank. Just think, if Rep. Joe Wilson had waited a couple of weeks to yell “You lie!” from the floor of Congress, he could have included “And you cuss, too!”
What people don’t realize is how damaging events like this can be. This particular incident seems to be getting a lot of laughs, and apparently all the proverbial fences have been mended, but that shouldn’t mask the fact that social media, such as Twitter, actually have the power to destroy someone’s reputation. Whether it’s ratemyprofessor.com, Twitter, a blog or some other means of communicating with a sizable audience, people not only read this stuff, but they believe it and pass it on! On top of that, it shows up in Google searches long after the content has been taken down. This can be, undeniably, damaging to a person’s life.
It’s no wonder schools are scared to death of this stuff. If one kid uses these media to bully another student on the school’s dime, it’s seen as justification to completely block all such sites. I guess my question is, why don’t schools take the proactive approach and meet this stuff head on? I wonder how many social studies teachers took the time today to talk about this event; not just the details of the event, but the broader social issues represented by this event. Are we using this kind of thing as mortar to build the wall a little higher and stronger, or are we looking for the lessons in it to help students understand just a little more the world we (the adults) have created. Twitter, or whatever technology that replaces it, is not going away, and I just wonder how they will learn to use it respectfully, carefully and thoughtfully.