August 10, 2008
Published Secrets Are Fair Game
Dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn ripped the veil from an unknown world: the infamous gulags of Stalinist Russia, whose terrors were cloistered from the global community. Through his literary talents, Solzhenitsyn revealed the measure of Soviet monstrosity against its own people.
His recent death, at age 89, has drawn renewed attention to his achievements. As a near-powerless prisoner of an authoritarian regime, Solzhenistyn bravely unmasked what happened in its shadows, by publishing - for the world to see - the dark secrets of its lawlessness. For Solzhenitsyn, his courage cemented his brilliance.
But others who boldly publish secrets of illegal, immoral activity - say, perhaps, on their Facebook or MySpace pages - the result is usually the opposite.
Three assistant baseball coaches at Deering High School in Portland have been fired, after photographs of them at an alcohol- soaked teenage party were posted on "popular social networking sites" after the team won the state title.
Whoops. The coaches showed an incredible lack of judgment. They not only condoned the party, but one of them allegedly hosted it. Unsurprisingly, school officials and parents have shown a distinct lack of sympathy for their plight.
The coaches brought this upon themselves and should face the consequences.
Incidents like this raise questions about social networking phenomena and whether it's appropriate for authority figures, like high school principals or parents, to monitor or moderate them. Some might think it's rather Big Brother-ish, or maybe even downright Soviet, for them to do so.
In cases like Deering and others, though, attention should be paid to the authors, not the viewers. The accountability is with the persons who decided to broadcast (for lack of a better word) the activities of their secret world to the widest possible audience - the Internet.
In the face of communism, this behavior would be a virtue. Solzhenitsyn did as much, if not more, to bury Josef Stalin than the stroke that claimed the dictator's life in 1953. (Imagine the impact if Solzhenitsyn had a Facebook page.)
But when your rebellion is a kegger at the house of an assistant baseball coach, populated by underage drinkers and chronicled on the Internet, there's really nobody but yourself to blame for the fallout.
When information is disseminated, it's meant to be seen. That's what Solzhenitsyn did - publish novels so the world would know what happened in the gulags. Then, he accepted the responsibility and punishment for his actions - years of exile from his homeland, mostly spent in Vermont.
Those who attended and posted pictures of the Deering High School party must also take the responsibility and punishment. Unlike the celebrated Solzhenitsyn, their revelations haven't enlightened the world, but rather proven - yet again - that teenagers and adults will act irresponsibly.
And that opening a secret world to the public is only sometimes an act of noble protest.
Or, for that matter, an act of brilliance.
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