I get the impression that comparing racist former nurse Ryane Godkin Oliva and former police chief and Rapid City mayoral candidate Steve Allender is grossly unfair. Oliva exhibits a level of vileness and thoughtlessness that we can only hope is a fading effect of youth and inexperience. Oliva’s online outburst against American Indians is so unpublishably vulgar and her immediate posting of such filth is so ill-advised that Rapid City Regional Health would have done well to re-evaluate her fitness for employment even if she had just been talking about an individual rather than a racial minority. Allender has been accused of making racist comments at work, but while he has not denied much of the offensive language attributed to him, we’ve seen no sign of a rage comparable to Oliva’s or ill judgment in making such comments public.
Oliva had an emotional outburst and shared it immediately with the world, on video. Allender offered notably more thoughtful, well-developed opinions in four years of public blog posts, then deleted them for apparently political reasons. Oliva’s primary error was in her impulsive publication of such vulgar material; Allender’s primary error was in deleting quality content (even though he can offer an arguable, not entirely CYA rationalization for his action).
Yet both made the error of thinking that they could remove online content and make it disappear from public discourse.
The public Internet is a good twenty years old. Widespread social media is pushing ten. Maybe that timeframe makes a steep learning curve for some, but all of us—nurses, politicians, teachers, Grandma and Grandpa—need to understand that the Web is not a fantasy land that operates by different rules. The things we say online are as real as the things we say at the office or at the bar. Whoever hears our words cannot unhear them. And when we say those words online, a whole lot more people can hear them for a lot longer time.
Think before you hit “Publish.” And once you publish, be ready to stand by those words forever.