Commentary Online

Today it's Ted Cruz, tomorrow it could be you

Commentary: The Texas senator became the laughing stock of Twitter this week after his verified account liked a porn post. Maybe we should all simmer down.

We are all Ted Cruz.

This week the Texas senator and former Republican presidential candidate is dealing with the fallout from his Twitter misadventures. Cruz, or whoever controls his social media accounts, on Tuesday night "liked" a video posted by @SexuallPosts. Yeah, the account posts the kind of content you'd expect from a handle like that. Naturally, hilarity ensued.

Cruz was the butt of many jokes on Twitter, but there could be some real-world repercussions. He's a conservative fellow, and in 2007 defended a Texan ban on dildos by arguing there's "no substantive-due-process right to stimulate ones genitals for nonmedical purposes." You can understand how a highly publicised porn spree could be a turnoff to his base.

But I don't say we're all Ted Cruz because of the hypocrisy, or even because of the porn. (I personally have never watched porn. I wonder what it's like.)

We're all Ted Cruz because at some point we'll pay the price for a social media gaffe. I've got at least 45 years before retirement, and there's no way I'm not getting in trouble at least once for something dumb I do on Facebook, Twitter or one of tomorrow's even more pervasive platforms.

There's already a fairly hefty list of employees who've gotten in hot water because of their social media moves. Some of these involve comical levels of stupidity, like the "Glee" extra who was sacked after tweeting story spoilers she heard on set, or the Buckingham Palace guard who was relieved of duty for calling Kate Middleton a "posh bitch."

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But there are some firings that are unwarranted, or at least worryingly murky. A Georgia-based high school teacher was fired in 2011 for the egregious crime of posting a picture of herself with a beer. In 2009, a Swiss woman was let go because her bosses saw her online on Facebook the same day she went home complaining of a migraine.

Fired just for logging on! One minute you're checking the comments on your new photo, the next you're fired. This is the future.

It's one of the reasons LinkedIn doesn't make sense to me. Facebook does LinkedIn better than LinkedIn does LinkedIn. Resume speak can make anyone sound great, but your Facebook account -- plus your Twitter and YouTube pages, if you're so inclined -- likely say more about how good a fit you are for the job and workplace culture.

Years ago, I got a Facebook friend request from a guy named "Emanuel Fettucinie." I assumed it was a spam account, so I disregarded it. Weeks later, my friend Arthur accosted me on a night out, asking why I'd ignored his friend request. Now job hunting after graduating, he had deactivated his actual account to shield himself from prospective employers trying to spy on his monkey business and started a new digital life as Emanuel Fettucinie. Really. He didn't go back to Arthur even after getting his job. "I think I'm more Emanuel Fettucinie than Arthur," he told me.

Since most people aren't willing to fake their own digital death for social media anonymity, the other option is to just share less. And that's what people are doing. The average user in 2016 posted 29 percent fewer status updates than in 2015, according to market research firm Mavrck. There are various reasons for this, of course, but my Facebook feed has certainly become more sterilized in recent years, and I suspect that's related to the issue I'm talking about here.

We're not in 1984 yet, as I don't think people often consciously think, "I shouldn't post this, otherwise I'll get in trouble." But the unspoken rule that your Facebook will be perused by strangers, some of whom you'll want a job from, definitely decreases incentive for spontaneity.  

Twitter is even more perilous. It encourages you to tweet every thought, but you never know who's reading and how your tweets can be construed years later. At the end of the day, what are you supposed to do if the porn is really hot? Not like it?

I jest. Even Ted Cruz is making fun of Ted Cruz, joking on Wednesday morning that "if I had known that this would trend so quickly, perhaps we should have posted something like this back during the Indiana primary."

In a move surprising roughly no one, Cruz said the whole thing was a "staffing issue." One of the many people who have access to the account "inadvertently hit the 'like' button," he said. If that's true, you can only assume that person got fired real good. One politician's aide was axed in 2013 when he tweeted "Me likey Broke Girls," thinking it was to his own account. This is much worse.

The situation is potentially duplicitous, but mainly it's funny on a visceral level, like seeing someone trip awkwardly on the street. Embedded in the humour is the knowledge that something similarly embarrassing can happen to us at any time.

So yes, laugh at Ted Cruz. I know I will. But remember that eventually we'll probably trip on the sidewalk too.

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