Fleeting mistakes live forever online

Published Aug 30, 2018 at 4:00pm

“I am forever grateful that I got to be young and stupid before virality was invented.” So said Lydia Polgreen, editor-in-chief of HuffPost, in a tweet on Aug. 2. By the next day, it had been retweeted hundreds of times and “liked” by thousands of readers.

Sean Newcomb may wish he had been born a generation ago. The Atlanta Braves left-hander, age 25, came within a strike of pitching a no-hitter -- and was barely done when he was confronted with Twitter posts he had put up in 2011 and 2012 using racial and homophobic slurs. Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner was busted for making similar tweets when he was in high school. These came to light not long after Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader had been exposed for doing much the same at age 17.

All apologized, Hader saying: “I was young, immature and stupid. There is no excuse for that to happen.” All three will have considerable work to do to rehabilitate their reputations and make amends for their nasty online remarks. Being in high school when you expressed bigoted sentiments certainly does not relieve you of the obligation to show that you’ve reformed.

But these incidents are evidence of the hazards of living in an age when youthful stupidity can attain immortality. Likewise for not-so-youthful stupidity.

When news breaks of youngsters being embarrassed or ruined by stupid things they said or did online, a lot of their elders say, “There but for the grace of the world wide web go I.” A few decades ago, kids could graduate from high school without fear that their worst decisions or utterances would haunt them for life. Then, a brief lapse of judgment could be just that -- brief and soon forgotten. But the internet never forgets.

Two suggestions: Think twice, at least, before putting anything online. And consider deleting your old tweets. Someday you may be glad you did.