The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 5, 2010

Beware of Internet; be as smart as Forrest Gump

Zachary Hubbard

— Forrest Gump, the lovable movie character made famous by actor Tom Hanks, spoke some memorable words of wisdom.

Among his better lines: “My momma always says, stupid is as stupid does.”

Today’s younger generation would do well to heed Forrest’s words, especially when it comes to activities on the Internet.

Random politicians occasionally demonstrate how correct Forrest was.

For example, we’ve all heard the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you don’t believe this, just ask former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart. 

In 1987, Hart’s presidential hopes were dashed by a photograph on the front page of the National Enquirer showing him with a beautiful babe, named Donna Rice, sitting on his lap.

Hart, who was married, learned the expensive lesson that aspiring politicians shouldn’t allow themselves to be photographed doing something they wouldn’t want their mother, or in Hart’s case, wife Lee, to know about.

A photo killed Hart’s political career in the pre-Internet era.

Fast-forward to the present, and questionable photos are still harming smart, attractive, aspiring individuals.

In May of this year, newly crowned Miss USA Rima Fakih was embarrassed when photos of her pole-dancing during a 2007 stripper contest she competed in surfaced on the Internet.

More recently, Krystal Ball of Virginia, a then-Democrat candidate for Congress, became defensive over sexually suggestive photographs of her posted on the Internet. 

It used to be that the only certain things in life were death and taxes. Today’s list of certainties has to include anything posted on the Internet – if something gets posted you can be certain it isn’t going away.

This goes not only for photos, but also for e-mails, blog entries and videos. The younger generation needs to understand this.

A recent survey by Cox Communications indicated that young people have a poor understanding of Internet privacy. Among the findings of the survey:

* 71 percent of teens have established online profiles, including those on social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, etc.).

* Teens readily post personal information online; 64 percent post photos or videos of themselves and 58 percent post information about where they live.

* Female teens are far more likely than male teens to post personal photos or videos of themselves (70 percent vs. 58 percent).

* Eight percent of teens have posted their cell phone numbers online.

Besides exposing themselves to personal risks, such as those posed by sexual predators, financial scammers, identity thieves and other miscreants, teens who don’t understand the implications of Internet privacy risk having their personal ambitions quashed by past errors in judgment.

Those photos of you with a beer bong were a great way to impress your friends when you posted it two years ago as a high school junior. Why, though, are those photos still posted on your social media account? 

The football scholarship selection committee at your favorite university has narrowed their running back choice down to you and one other competitor. You are both equally matched in academics and athletic abilities. 

However, your competitor’s social media account has photos of his Eagle Scout award ceremony juxtaposed to you and the beer bong.

Duh! You just made the committee’s decision much easier.

You did a fantastic job in high school and just applied for an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Your congresswoman is reviewing your application. Her aid, while researching your qualifications, checks your social media postings and discovers a photograph in which you appear to be smoking “wacky tobacky.”

Naval Academy ambitions down the drain!

Last night, you met the man you have always been looking for. You went home and dreamed of your future together. He went home and visited your Myspace page.

He wasn’t impressed by that picture of you in a drunken stupor dancing on a bar at a sorority party way back when you were a senior in college.

He doesn’t ask you out again.

You recently applied for a great job for which you are highly qualified. Landing this position would double your income and set you up for many years. The human-resources director at the company visits your blog and discovers that you have repeatedly maligned your current boss.

You can’t understand why you are not called for an interview.   

You get my point. Once something is posted on the Internet, it is nearly impossible to delete. You can remove it from your social media site, but that doesn’t preclude someone who doesn’t like you from making a copy before it is removed and using it against you in the future.

There are also those eternal cached web pages on Google that make retrieving deleted web information oh so easy.

Think twice before posting something to the Internet or making it a matter of record through an e-mail.

As Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

When it comes to the Internet, teens need to be at least as smart as Forrest.

Parents must get involved, too. The Federal Trade Commission has an informative website called Net Cetera, describing Internet threats and how parents can help protect their kids.

The site also has a lot of pertinent Internet security information for adults. You can find it at: www.onguard-online.gov/topics/netcetera.aspx.

Get Internet smart before you get Internet burned.



Zachary Hubbard is a retired Army officer and freelance writer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He is a member of The Tribune Democrat Readership Advisory Committee.