Internet mishaps can’t be deleted

I went to a store recently to pick up a new CD. It wasn’t on the shelves, and I almost whined about the store’s failure on Twitter, along with my intent to stop shopping there for music … and a maximum amount of cursing.

Fortunately, before I could grab my phone, I saw a cart of unsorted new CDs. The one I wanted was there, and I was listening to it in the car a few minutes later.

As I drove home, I thought, “Wow, imagine how I’d have looked shooting first and asking questions later.”

But I already know, thanks to a recent failure of New Mexico media outlets. Let me tell you about Pedobear. It’s a cartoon bear, and it’s a sexual predator of children. The bear gets posted on Internet bulletin boards when somebody makes a comment that’s a little creepy. Soon, it was on stickers and vehicle windows throughout the country.

Attorney General Gary King’s office recently raised concerns about such stickers and put out a release. The subsequent reports from New Mexico TV stations were dire, and instantly mock-worthy.

Reports said Pedobear images and vehicle window decals were being used to lure children and serve as a “bat signal” for other pedophiles. They said people would dress up as bears and snatch up children.

Problem: The media fired first, and asked questions never. There was no court case offered, no confession given and no child abduction to substantiate these claims.

The TV stations didn’t ask the necessary questions. Neither did the newspapers, ours included, that ran brief items on it. And now people are whipped up in fear over a sticker that’s perfectly legal to own and display. Or they would be if they weren’t busy pummeling YouTube videos and Facebook pages from the station — with many comments more offensive than Pedobear.

I know some of the reporters involved in these stories. They’re hard-working people who made a mistake, and I feel horrible for them. I’ve made horrific mistakes too, and I can tell you first-hand that the Internet puts your mistake out there for the masses.

It’s not just in media. A friend of mine said she spent an entire afternoon looking through resumes, and found many of them disqualified themselves with something they’d posted publicly on Facebook.

I talked to another friend in TV and we wondered, “Would we have had Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow if there was an Internet to instantly post the worst mistakes they ever made?”

There are a lot of lessons to be learned. Ask every question possible first. Ask yourself, “Am I OK with this being on the Internet forever?” Be accountable when you make a mistake, and keep an open mind and heart when somebody else makes a mistake. If you want the higher rewards of social media, you’re going to have to accept the higher risks.

I’ve probably left one out, or maybe I’ve left out something about the Pedobear story. I’m sure I’ll hear about it soon from one of you. Just keep the cursing to a minimum.