Learning from Elizabeth Lauten’s Facebook Rant

Elizabeth Lauten resigned Monday after ranting about the Obama girls on Facebook. What is it about social media that makes people say stupid things?

If ever there was a Gawker moment, it was the Obama girls smirking behind their father at the turkey pardon. In fact, Gawker covered the teenagers in true form. But that didn’t stop GOP staffer Elizabeth Lauten from taking to Facebook, berating the girls for not showing any “class” and just generally ranting, with a little latent racism thrown in.

If ever there was time for a social media scandal, it’s over a four-day holiday weekend. People immediately took to Twitter and Facebook to call for Lauten’s resignation, which has reportedly happened this morning. There are a few, rather amazing, things at play here:

1) Tell Us How You Really Feel: Social media has always been a place to rant. And Facebook makes the mistake of asking us how we feel when we update our status. If you feel racist, don’t type anything. If you feel a little misogynist, don’t do it. You need to address these issues and overcome them, but social media is not the place.

It’s not just about public figures making fools of themselves, it can happen to just regular people, too. You will lose your job, your friends, your reputation, and everyone will know how ridiculous you really are. You know Google was about not being evil? Your Internet motto should be “don’t be a jerk.”

2) We Know Who You Are: The Internet and social media are all about communities and communities have each others’ back. Yet, we also segregate ourselves on social media, as this piece on Ferguson and social media points out. One of the first things that pops up when you search Lauten on Twitter is #blacktwitter.

You can’t expect anyone to ignore ignorance on social media. Twitter hashtags and communities might not be able to change the world, but there’s power in having an outlet for a collective voice. If only we had a good way to make them show up in more newsfeeds and not stay in the silo.

3) And We Will Respond: There are a lot of social issues surrounding privacy and anonymity and how social media affects communication. But for every troll on the Internet, there is someone who calls out that troll. I won’t be so naive to suggest that the world is a better place because of social media, because the world is full of scumbags, let’s face it. But it is good news that those scumbags have social presences. Let them hide in the annals of the Internet, because if they come to the mainstream networks, as Lauten took to Facebook (of all places, really), you just can’t talk like that anymore. Maybe the less we accept that kind of talk, the less people will take to those opinions. Slowly, but surely.