In the future, we will all probably have some Facebook skeletons. They might be regrettable pictures in various states of inebriation and/or undress, unfortunate status updates, etc. I’ve argued that the media has overblown these risks because, as the digital dirt on our collective hands becomes more commonplace, the stigma it carries will erode. However, the 2010 midterm elections in the United States suggest a point that I previously neglected: the stigmatization of digital dirt may be eroding, but eroding for whom?
It seems clear that the acceptance of a little digital dirt is occurring much faster for men than for women. And, what the 2010 elections made clear is that there is a double standard for women to keep a perfect online presence, while men are more easily forgiven.
Political campaigns have always struggled against the skeletons in a candidate’s closet. And this will increasingly involve photos uploaded to sites like Facebook and Twitter. Younger individuals who have been using these services for years are starting to run for increasingly important political offices, and those older have started using social media in large numbers. Thus, the impact of one’s Facebook presence on important political campaigns is not a worry for the future, but is upon us now.
The New York Times outlines some cases from the 2010 midterm elections and asks if voters will tolerate leaders in various states of undress and inebriation? The answer is probably yes, but for men first.
For instance, Sean Duffy won a seat in congress after appearing on The Real World – the MTV reality show that foreshadowed the Facebook norm of documenting your everyday life as if you were a celebrity. Duffy’s indiscretions were fully documented and brought up during the campaign. It proved to be a non-issue. He won.
Conversely, when revealing photos of a female candidate surface, it becomes national news. Krystal Ball, who was also running for congress, became one of the most Googled persons in the world when pictures of her at 22 years old dressed in a skimpy Halloween costume hit the Internet. The obsession with her body and her indiscretions came to define her and her campaign. She lost.
Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.
What we do not want is for women growing up today to be reluctant to run for office because every picture of them wearing a short skirt at a Halloween party will become the most Googled image in the world.
So, yes, we may be increasingly forgiven for past indiscretions when we all have some of them documented for the word to see. But will this forgiveness be equal for all?