We are writing this on the assumption that some young people still read newspapers.

We don’t know if that is actually the case, but we will proceed anyway.

Based on what we have witnessed over the years, it appears that young people read their cellphones and little else. (However, we did notice a girl reading a book at a restaurant a few months ago. That was an encouraging sign.)

So if there are any young people reading this, here’s a warning for you: the Internet is not your friend. In particular, placing a record of your life on the Internet – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and whatever else is out there at the moment – can cause you all kinds of problems in the future.

What we sometimes happen to see on Facebook can be disturbing. Some young people, and even some adults, detail all aspects of their lives. That includes drinking and drug use, shocking vulgarity, insults to others, sexist and racist language, and in extreme cases sometimes not-so-veiled threats of violence to others or themselves.

Now, we should say that those types of posts do not appear to be at all common, but we have seen them over the years. And maybe you have, too.

We have never understood why people feel the need to detail every aspect of their lives online, right down to their meals.

And we have often wondered how a young person ever gets a first job, considering that employers sometimes go straight to Facebook as the first reference.

Those misgivings about the Internet were confirmed when we recently heard a fascinating story from the United States, which can serve as a warning about the dangers of revealing everything to the world.

You may have already heard the story. It goes something like this: a 24-year-old man in a crowd holds up a sign at a live TV sports event asking for beer money, people send US $1.8 million, he keeps enough for a case of beer and donates the rest to a charity, and the young man becomes a hero.

However, that status lasts just a few days, until a reporter finds racist jokes that our fallen hero re-tweeted when he was just 16 years of age.

Then, people find a racial slur and statements mocking domestic abuse and same-sex marriage that the reporter once placed on the Internet, and he gets fired.

You cannot make this stuff up.

It’s a perfect example of how what you place on social media can come back to haunt you years later.

It may be completely unfair that the stupid online actions of a teenager can harm that person for the rest of his or her life, but that is the world in which we live.

The Internet is forever.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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