It’s not uncommon to hear about people who become internet famous or otherwise are thrust into public view, only to be ruthlessly attacked by cancel culture because of old, long-forgotten online behavior. Carson King is the most recent example of this. Famous for a beer money sign that went viral, he won hearts and public opinions when he decided to donate the money he raised to a children’s hospital.
What a wholesome, winsome, good-natured story. The kind we need right now, right? Until the Des Moines Register had a reporter dig into his Twitter history, uncovering tweets from nearly a decade ago when a teenaged King quoted a TV show and said things in bad taste.
While King was quick to express regret over the bad judgment of his teenaged self, it was too late for some, such as Anheuser-Busch, which had previously partnered with him in his fundraising. The beer giant announced it would no longer work with King. In contrast, on Thursday, Geneseo Brewing announced that the stand-up way King had handled the situation inspired them to create a brew in his honor, and they’ll donate $1 of each sale to the children’s hospital.
Help Your Teens Combat Cancel Culture
There’s a lot of smart conversation happening on how to combat cancel culture and how to potentially pull back on some of the most damaging aspects of it, but right now, words said online can come back to bite people years and years later — particularly words said in public forums such as Twitter or on public Facebook posts.
Parents of teens and young adults must be aware of cancel culture and the future ramifications of internet behavior for their children and start actively addressing it. It’s just as important as talking about being kind to people in real life, because the electronic record of their online stupidity can be pulled up and used against them in job situations and other adult interactions.
Reading about people losing their jobs, their scholarships, or their positions on sports teams might be enough for parents to understand why it’s so important that their teen’s edgy and poorly thought-out tweets disappear into the ether, but knowing how to broach this subject and actually address the problem is a totally different matter.
Do you know what platforms your teen is using? Really? All of them? You might be surprised, because research indicates many teens have accounts their parents are unaware of. Don’t approach this from an angry place, but use a current news story such as King’s to discuss how past online behavior can have future repercussions. Tell your teens you’re there to help them from having something like this happen to them in the future (you are their parent, after all) and that this is a team effort — and mean it.
Lead By Example
While you’re at it, take a hard look at your own social history. Many people have said things online they regret. People make mistakes. They grow, they change, and they learn. For this reason, it’s a good idea for everyone to audit his past public posts. See anything cringey? Delete it.
Be a good example on this. Face your mistakes, wonder what in the world you were thinking, and then remove objectionable content. Address your Twitter account, look at public Facebook posts you engaged on, fix poorly thought-out Instagram moments, and just think through what presents a positive image of a functional human and what doesn’t.
Don’t let the hasty words of yesterday determine your tomorrow in a time we’re so caught up in cancel culture. With a platform like Twitter, many people are starting to delete all tweets more than six months old. Whole think pieces have been written with rationales for cleaning up old tweets, and paid services even exist now to clean up posts for you regularly.
You don’t have to pay someone else to do this unless you are a high-volume user, though. You can sit down together with your teen, over coffee or pizza, and each clean up your online history together. Check out the things you’ve randomly followed, the pages you’ve liked, the “witty” jokes you bestowed on the world. Send them into the void, where they belong.
Move Past Old Mistakes
If any of these sites serve as an online journal and you or your teen is loathe to lose that record, don’t despair. Platforms now offer the option to download your archive, quickly and cleanly, before clearing things off. Save that file somewhere securely, and then purge. I suggest doing this at least every six months. Schedule it like you do a dental cleaning or changing your furnace filter.
Get ahead of the crowd before the outrage mob comes for you. It doesn’t mean you’re guilty of anything other than being a human, full of imperfect and randomly stupid moments. We all have them. Rather, it means you and the young adults in your life acknowledge the reality in which we live, one where an ill-thought-out moment can become a massive headache years later.
I believe in redemption, in the capacity for people to learn and change and grow. I believe people can make mistakes and move past them, and that the mistakes of our past, the worst moments of each of us, should not define our every next move.
And I hope, eventually, society will agree with that. But until then, we need to teach our young people the skill of careful online hygiene, just like all the other cleanliness habits we teach them.