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Obama tells kids to be wary of Facebook

Speaking to around 40 high school students in Virginia, the president suggests children should be very careful about what they post on the social networking site.

2 min read

It's not every day that a high school student gets some advice on social networking from a president.

So it was interesting to hear where President Obama's focus lay Tuesday when talking to 40 students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., before his nationally broadcast speech to America's schoolkids.

There he was in the school library. Books abounded. Yet his focus fell on Facebook. According to the Associated Press, President Obama asked the 40 assembled kids, all sitting politely on nice wooden chairs, to think very carefully about their socially-networked content.

"Be careful what you post on Facebook. Whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life," he told the kids.

Now you can see that the president, himself the father of two girls, is worried about the future consequences of present actions.

Is the president right to worry about kids' Facebook postings? CC SEIU International/Flickr

He is concerned, no doubt, that practices such as sexting and other possibly absurd types of openness on social networking sites might lead to some future calamity.

But I wonder if this is entirely true. One of the strange effects that time has on human life is to render somewhat meaningless the actions of the past.

Once, people might have been concerned if their employee, or, indeed, their president, had smoked pot at some point in their flailing youth. Now, it seems almost a rite of passage. If you didn't at least try it, you seem just faintly peculiar.

Once you reach a certain age, does anyone really care what you did when you were 14? So isn't it fair to wonder just what effect kids' socially networked indiscretions might have 20 years from now?

Might it be that by then social networking will seem so ridiculously normal, that you will seem strange not to have some something embarrassing in your younger days, available for all to see?

Might it be possible that those who eschew a life exposed online will be seen to be the odd ones, rather than those who let what seems to be a little too much hang out?

I know it may be difficult to imagine, viewing it from our current perspective. I know that employers these days often search the Web for incriminating evidence of the misdeeds of potential employees. ("Aagh. He got drunk at a party three years ago! I'm not employing him!")

But it's extraordinary how quickly the apparently abnormal becomes the norm, especially with the accelerated change created by anything Web-based.

Of course, there will be those of you who will have had your heads turned by another aspect of the president's talk.

Why did he say "Facebook"? And not "MySpace"? And not "Twitter"?

I know there will be at least two boardrooms Wednesday where everyone will be terribly concerned about this apparent endorsement of Facebook's ubiquity.

I wonder if the CEOs of MySpace and Twitter will blog about it, or at least slip some bons mots of concern onto their Facebook pages.