Willow Palin's apparent Facebook rant -- a PSA for Facebook Groups?
I'm having difficulty coming up with a response to Willow Palin's much-bruited, alleged Facebook comment outburst against a classmate, Tre Name Redacted, who posted the status, "Sarah Palin's Alaska, is failing soo hard right now." As TMZ reported it and Politico re-reported it, instead of simply disagreeing and critiquing his grammar ("Why are you dragging that poor comma into this?"), Willow exploded, as did Bristol, as, promptly, did everyone else involved in the thread, even some total strangers, leaving a trail of badly wounded participles, mangled spellings, and two homophobic slurs (courtesy, apparently, of Willow).
Still, I'm torn between two of my core principles: my belief in the inalienable right of young people to say stupid things on the Internet, and my corresponding belief that it is never okay to call someone "gay" as an insult or use the f-slur. It's ignorant, unclassy, and unkind. Saying that things are "really gay" should be reserved for situations such as: "Those two guys are getting legally married!" or "Hey, there goes Elton John!"
I think we should pick other broad generalizing words for people to use as insults -- maybe "homophobic" or "absentee father." Using that, Willow's alleged responses to her hater would have run as follows: "Haha your so homophobic. I have no idea who you are. But what I've seen pictures of, your disgusting... My sister had a kid and is still hot. And don't talk [feces] about Andy," and "Tre stfu. Your such an absentee father."
I wish that we could do something about the spelling also, but this is Facebook. This returns me to my other point. You can't simultaneously ask for privacy and publicity, but I will defend the ability of teenagers to post obnoxious Facebook rants as fiercely as any mama grizzly protects her cubs' power to do whatever it is grizzly cubs do. It's not a privilege. It's a rite of passage.
Unfortunately, the Social Network is a messy place. Facebook is a snarl of mutual acquaintances, miscommunications, and people who just want to play Farmville and be left alone. But nowadays, so much of the business of real-life friendship is conducted on Facebook (how many times have you wished life included a "like" button?) that we almost forget it's a public forum. Then something like this happens and reminds us.
If this (language warning) had been a real, live conversation, it wouldn't be on national gossip blogs now, because it would have stayed among friends -- even if those friends call each other hateful slurs and put down each other's reality TV shows. But what are the odds of that? Who has real conversations? Our generation doesn't converse. We comment.
And the other problem with Facebook and the social networks it creates is that it renders it impossible to be an innocent bystander. One day you click "Like" on your friend Tre's status, and, suddenly, you're implicated in an apparent vitriolic posting match with Bristol Palin, Willow Palin, and several individuals whose names TMZ redacted.
In fact, the person I feel worst for in this whole interaction is Austin Name Redacted, who clicked that he "liked" the status that reportedly provoked the whole acrimonious debate. He must have received well over 30 notification e-mails! That must have been awful. Maybe he's the one who leaked it.
Usually, there is no way to punish the person responsible for your receiving dozens of notification e-mails. In a way, Austin is acting out a fantasy we all have had at some point.
Oscar Wilde once wrote that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. But for the Palins, that often seems not to be the case -- remember Sarah's response to the Letterman joke? More applicable would be the words of Noel Coward: "I can take any amount of criticism, so long as it is unadulterated praise."
Now Bristol has used her Facebook page to apologize -- "Willow and I shouldn't have reacted to negative comments about our family. We apologize. On a nicer note, thank you for supporting the great competition in Dancing with the Stars!"
Maybe it will turn out later that this was all a PSA for Facebook Groups. "Look, Tre!" the message will say. "If you had only limited the visibility of your status updates to your real friends, none of this would have happened."
| November 17, 2010; 3:35 PM ET
Categories: Only on the Internet, Petri, Worst Things Ever | Tags: Facebook, The Palins
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