Lessons of Vinny

Earlier today, while checking Twitter, I received this from “Vinny” …

I don’t know what set “Vinny” off, or why he was even following me to begin with. I responded with this …

There were a few more exchanges and then, at long last, “Vinny” went nuclear and called me a “dumb Jew.”

As most who follow me on Twitter know, I love back and forth. It’s part of the fun; not just trash talk, but journalism dialogue, sports dialogue, political dialogue. If ever something gets heated (which really happens infrequently), I try and take a step back, cool things down, make peace. This time, though, I felt no need to. Instead, I issued myself a challenge. I wanted to see how long it would take me to learn “Vinny’s” identity.

I began.

I ended.

Total time: Approximately seven minutes.

I won’t give away my secrets, but it’s something pretty much anyone with a computer can master. In the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, I had his name, address, phone number and social security number. I also could have found the names of parents and siblings, but, well, enough was enough. I told “Vinny,” via Twitter, that I had obtained the information, to which he replied …

And this, my friends, is where “Vinny” shows himself to be the dumb one.

As I always, always, always, always tell my students, in 2013 nothing is private. Absolutely, positively nothing. You post a photo on Facebook of someone smoking a joint, it’s out there—forever. You write a bigoted Tweet, it’s out there—forever. Hell, just the other day I looked up a college basketball player on Twitter. I was writing something about him, and wanted some background information. On his Twitter page, for everyone to see, he had this photo of a teammate Tweeting while on the toilet …

I wanted to scream, “What the hell are you doing? Don’t you know this stuff sticks with you? With your teammate?” I mean, seriously  … c’mon.

I digress. I try and be a nice guy. Decent. Compassionate. Empathetic. “Vinny” is a young man, and while I have his address, I don’t know whether he lives on his own or (probably) with his parents. It’s not my goal to ruin him, or to cause him harm. But people, a la “Vinny,” need to know how this shit works. If I print his real name, his real address, his real information, alongside “dumb Jew,” he’s cooked. Done. Fucked. If you’re hiring someone these days, you Google them—no ifs, ands or buts. It’s as much as part of the process as requesting a resume.

Whether you’re “Vinny” or the basketball player or, well, anyone, it always pays to err on the side of caution.

Because the line is awfully thin.