Sen. Al Franken’s stupid & sexist 2006 photo is a lesson for us all

by Larry Magid

The picture of Al Franken appearing to grope a sleeping fellow USO entertainer should serve as a warning to everyone. It’s easy to take (or be in) an inappropriate picture and it’s equally easy to share it online. But, as Franken found out, an image can resurface at any time and possibly during a time when its impact will be more severe than the day it was taken. I make no excuses for Franken — it was sexist, stupid, insensitive and dumb but if he had taken a moment to think¬†about the long-term implications, perhaps he might have avoided the stupid incident.

There is a common statement “think before you post” which I live by. There are times when I’m tempted to post something that could later get me into trouble, even if it feels innocent at the time. I’m sure I don’t always get it right. I probably do occasionally post things that I might later regret and I suspect I am frequently over cautious and avoid posting things that probably wouldn’t be an issue. These decisions can be nuanced.

Still, there are some clear lines. My guideline is to never post anything that is likely to embarrass me or get me into trouble or offend, embarrass or harm someone else. Though I can be critical, I try not to be mean and I am aware that humor, satire and irony can be misinterpreted. That’s not to say we shouldn’t use humor — it can be great — but we should be aware of its possible impact.

There was a time when you had to be a famous person like Franken to get into trouble over media, but today we’re all media-stars and our future reputations, careers and relationships can be affected by what we post.

Parents, I recommend that you discuss this situation with your children and remind them what they say and post can affect them later in life. Remind them that there are cameras all around us so what they do and how they appear around others can be memorialized if photographed. I don’t want anyone to live in fear, but I want all of us to be aware of the implications of what we do and how we are perceived now and in the future..