By: Elizabeth Klein
Big Brother is watching. Or at least, Twitter is. In recent weeks, the social media website has gained attention for users exposing the old tweets of celebrities and calling on them to apologize for their actions. The most explosive incident happened with Brother Nature. Kevin Peña is a Twitter user lovingly called Brother Nature for his videos depicting his interactions with all sorts of wildlife. A few months ago, a Twitter user found some of his old tweets and posted screenshots of them on Twitter. The tweets contained offensive content, including “HEIL HITLER,” “Wanna hear a joke? Women’s rights,” and “Jay Z look like a monkey.” After Twitter users reacted angrily, Peña responded with an apology for his actions. “I apologize for 12 year old Kevin and take total responsibility for my words,” he said. “I was a child and am now a man asking you to accept the apology of a young boy.”
I get it. What Peña said was wrong. But it’s not like he’s on Twitter spreading hate, bigotry, and ignorance. He’s posting videos of him feeding deer.
This relentless attack on individuals for the mistakes of their youth sends a clear message to society: nobody can make mistakes, nobody gets second chances. People say and do stupid stuff when they’re young. Can you honestly say that you never expressed an ignorant opinion when you were younger? I remember in middle school when everybody was using the r-word in place of every negatively connoted adjective conceivable. The things you said on Xbox live when you were twelve should not come back to haunt you when you’re succeeding in life as an individual who has learned from their mistakes.
This is not to say that the actions of young people don’t matter. They very much do. I’m not talking about blatant and persistent, unchanging ignorance. People who use the internet to demonstrate an intolerance that could not possibly exist solely on social media platforms don’t get a free pass; it doesn’t matter if they were teenagers. There is a point to which you should know better. Being overtly prejudiced and making no attempts to educate yourself even as a young person warrants scrutinization.
Like Laura Lee’s racist tweets from 2012. Just five months after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, she tweeted “tip for all black people if you pull ur pants up you can run from the police faster.. #yourwelcome.” This tweet wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark that came from a place of pure ignorance or lack of education. It was motivated by a vein of racism that Lee didn’t take the time to address through her 23 years of living.
Part of growing up, especially growing up in school, is being taught how to act by the people around you. You learn what’s right and what’s wrong not only by the morals instilled in you by your family but by your experiences and interactions with others. Your peers act as mentors for your development. You take cues from them and model your behavior after them.
But before that can happen, you mess up. You say stupid, uneducated things. But you learn. You grow. And if you don’t—if you continue to commit to the ignorance of your youth and make no effort to work on yourself for the benefit of others—then it’s time to bring up the old tweets.