When Georgetown alumnus Jon Ossoff (SFS ’09) launched his bid for a House seat representing Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, his degree from the School of Foreign Service appeared to be an asset in a crowded race of 16 other candidates.
Instead, the 30-year-old Democrat’s college years are under scrutiny after a Republican Party-backed super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, released footage of Ossoff as a student spoofing Georgetown’s alcohol policy in a “Star Wars” parody and performing a Billy Joel-inspired rendition of “Georgetown Girl” as a member of the a cappella group the Georgetown Chimes. The attack ads were part of a $1.1 million campaign by the super PAC to characterize Ossoff as “not honest, not serious, not ready” ahead of the April 18 special election.
Georgetown students and those familiar with the university’s culture will likely find these videos innocuous — in fact, they did not appear to dent Ossoff’s 25 percent lead in the polls, which has increased nine percent since the advertisement first ran. Nevertheless, the release of these videos signals a chilling precedent for millennials, who make up the first generation to seek entry into the political field while contending with the inconvenient staying power of social media.
Now we have crossed a threshold where documentation of one’s college experience can be weaponized, ripped from social media, stripped of context and deployed to inflict untold damage on the careers of unsuspecting millennials. There is no telling how many of Georgetown’s future members of Congress, judges and CEOs will be felled by unflattering screenshots saved on their friends’ phones.
The natural reaction to this development is to urge students to use their discretion when posting on social media and exercise caution in social situations that can be captured by others. But this advice neglects the fact that Ossoff did not capture these videos himself and elect to post them on social media, nor did he do anything but perform a sketch with his friends or sing at Gaston Hall with a student club.
As a result, students are discouraged from participating in activities that are irreverent or insufficiently “serious” in the singular pursuit of advancing a student’s career. In an atmosphere that can already sometimes be stiflingly pre-professional, participating in student groups like a cappella groups, fraternities and sororities is not an indicator of immaturity so much as an outlet for socialization and spontaneity.
In the videos, Ossoff did not engage in any activity that was illegal or elicit; instead, the footage captures him in an embarrassing display typical of a college student. There is an inherent hypocrisy in condemning millennials for behavior previous generations were fortunate enough to experience before the existence of digital media.
This editorial board cautions students — not out of disagreement, but rather out of necessity — to refrain from posting potentially damaging material online, where employers or potential opponents can access this information as easily as scrolling the Google results page or scrounging the photo section of Facebook. But more importantly, readers of every age must remain cognizant that seconds-long snatches on social media — particularly if rehashed without context — provide little insight into a person’s character or qualifications.
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