Alexandra Wallace was pissed. Here she was in the U.C.L.A. library trying to study for her upcoming poli sci exam and was having trouble concentrating. Why? All those Asian students that U.C.L.A. admits each year are in the library talking on their cellphones. Horrors! So what does Alexandra do? Does she ask them to pipe down? Does she approach a librarian for help? Does she retire to her dorm room to study? Does she complain to her roommate? Email a complaint to the campus newspaper?
No! She videotapes what can only be termed a “racial rant” and posts it on YouTube. Within minutes, her video goes viral. And her timing could not have been worse. An earthquake and tsunami strike Japan and her video, previously viewed as racist and intolerant, is now viewed as also insensitive and cruel. Others begin to post YouTube videos condemning Wallace’s actions. Threats of violence follow. U.C.L.A. declines to expel Wallace, saying that while the video was repugnant, she was just exercising her right to free speech. Wallace, saying she “would do anything to take back my insensitive words,” voluntarily withdraws from the university.
One moment of poor judgment that will now derail this young woman’s life. We don’t know if Wallace really is a racist or if, as she says, she was just trying to post a humorous YouTube video. She made a bad call and now must suffer the consequences. Will another university accept her? How many friends will now shun her? When she applies for a job and her prospective employer does an Internet search, the video will once again surface. The Internet is forever and, unfortunately, Alexandra’s one moment of insanity will follow her throughout her lifetime.
One thing Alexandra can do? Hit the road and go into schools to talk about her experience. Think it’s funny to post that video of your friends getting drunk? How about putting on that sexy, black underwear you just bought at Victoria’s Secret and sending a video to that cute boy in your math class? Hate your principal? Go on YouTube and make fun of him. Ask Alexandra for her advice. We have a good idea what she would advise.
More than 15 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute. EVERY MINUTE. There’s no way all that video can be screened, although YouTube will take down those that are deemed unacceptable. Alexandra’s video can still be found online, although not on YouTube. But that hardly matters. It still exists in cyberspace and will exist there forever.
Young people have mastered the techniques for posting comments and videos online. What they haven’t mastered is the maturity and judgment necessary for determining what is acceptable and what crosses the line. Even someone like Alexandra, a student at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, lacked that “emotional intelligence” that would have prevented her from making the biggest mistake of her life.
Have a young person in your life? Tell them Alexandra’s story now, before it’s too late.
Charlene Giannetti is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of seven books for parents of young adolescents including The Roller-Coaster Years: Raising Your Child Through the Maddening Yet Magical Middle School Years.