The Illinois State Senate impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich yesterday on a number of counts. I am not going to debate the merits of the decision, nor the potential criminal charges. But, there is a lesson here and its one for everyone including digital natives.
Among the counts against Mr. Blagojevich was one that dealt with his actions to ‘sell’ his appointment to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat vacated by President Obama. That count was based on wiretap messages discussing possible appointees and what he could get for it.
Mr. Blagojevich knew he was under investigation and knew that Federal prosecutors monitored his communications and yet he continued to speak very openly about the value of the appointment and the fact that he needed to get something for it.
In his defense, Mr. Blagojevich, stated that the public misunderstood what he was saying, that just because he talked about something he was not guilty until he actually did something illegal, and that state politicians were persecuting him.
Digital natives take heed. As Don Tapscott points out in his book Grown Up Digital, digital natives know that their communications can be monitored and that they have no privacy in the social computing world, yet they do not change their behavior. Tapscott’s only criticism of digital natives is that they do not manage their privacy, nor recognize the fact that what they say now can and will have an impact on their future.
In many ways Digital Natives should learn from Mr. Blagojevich’s very public situation. Namely that what you say can be as damaging as what you do and that the court of public opinion is set not at the time you say it, but at the time when others make a future judgment about you. A judgment that will by definition NOT be at a time of your choosing, not in a context you control, nor with an outcome you can influence.
The collaboration, openness and sharing among the digital generation is great and is forming new ways of working that we all can benefit from. Just recognize that what you say, write, post, or picture lasts well beyond the moment and is very open to interpretation after the fact.