To send, or not to send…

Published 11:32 am Saturday, June 1, 2013

Every single person with an active email account has received at least one of “those” emails. You know the ones I’m talking about. The kind that spread political conspiracy theories about how the president is not only an illegal alien who wasn’t born in the United States, but is an actual alien who was born in outer space and was sent to earth to destroy mankind. Or the ones that say the IRS is secretly bugging all of our cellphones to help them better identify Tea Party activists in order to set them all up for audits.

I even get a lot of the tasteless stuff that gets passed around as well, the emails that are much more graphic in their racial or sexual content. Yup, I get those emails all the time. And I suspect many of you do as well.

While none of them has ever shaped or changed my opinion on any matters of substance, they have sometimes changed or shaped my opinion regarding the common sense of the person who sent or forwarded them to me. Many people take the stuff that gets forwarded to them in emails as gospel truth, and I am often left shaking my head in amazement at how quickly and easily some of us will consume and digest nearly anything that is placed in front of us.

I can honestly say I can’t recall having ever forwarded any of these kinds of emails. It really has nothing to do with whether or not I find any of the intended humor to be funny, it’s because, when you hit send, you’ve essentially told all who receive the email that you agree with all of its contents – whether you do or not.

Two elected officials in Isle of Wight County have recently learned the hard way that your digital footprint – the information you either create or participate in that has your name attached to it – lasts forever.

I don’t know Buzz Bailey or Herb DeGroft, and I have never developed a personal opinion of either one, regardless of the public mess they have found themselves in the last few weeks over the obviously tasteless emails they were both recipients and then senders of. That’s not to say I don’t find their decision to forward those emails to colleagues, who may or may not share the senders’ comedic sensibilities, stunningly boneheaded. I’ve seen the content of these emails and, given their nature and the nature of the world in which we live, an elected official should have had enough sense to hit delete instead of send.

But I’ve also been around long enough to know that most of us, myself included, have done or said something others found offensive in the name of trying to get a cheap laugh at one time or another. It doesn’t automatically mean we are bad people who hide hatred for others in our hearts, it often just means we had a lapse in judgment and said or did something inappropriate that we later wish we hadn’t. That’s not an excuse; it’s the truth.

Doing or saying these things with the expectation of privacy doesn’t make them more right than doing them publicly, just as when they are exposed publicly it doesn’t make them any more wrong than had they remained private. But in this case, as in many others, people involved behind the scenes found no need to take action until the emails became public.

Many people have jumped on the bandwagon of calling for each of the men to resign. Two are Bailey’s colleagues on the board of supervisors, both of whom were recipients of some of the emails as many as six months ago. But it wasn’t until the emails were disclosed publicly that they found the content of them to be so egregious as to ask Bailey to resign. If the emails are so damning now, weren’t they equally damning in November? By not speaking up until now, does that automatically mean the recipients of the emails are racists who agreed with the content of the emails until it was politically prudent to publicly speak out against them? I don’t think so, any more so than having forwarded the emails automatically means that Bailey and DeGroft are racists themselves.

Forwarding those emails showed a lack of common sense. There is no way to view them and fail to see that the content would be perceived by many as offensive and insensitive. I don’t condone what is in them any more than I do the decision to send them. It just seems to me that before we start asking for heads on a platter, that those who are asking for them should check their own email to make sure they don’t need to resign as well.