Internet videos will come back to haunt youth of today

Kelly Yang says students should think twice before posting their youthful indiscretions on the internet because it can't be undone

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 3:13am

Move over, Jay-Z. There's a new rap star in the house. His name is Lucas Scibetta. He's 17 years old, goes to the Hong Kong International School and raps about … well, weed. As of this week, his controversial self-made music video about kids in Hong Kong partying and enjoying a carefree lifestyle has got over 60,000 hits on YouTube and interest from at least two record labels. According to students I talked to, he's truly "legit".

When I watched the video, I was in a state of shock - not about the apparent wild goings-on among the teenagers in the video; that's nothing new. What really shocked me was that this kid would post a video of his wild activities online and encourage the world to watch. How does he expect to get into university or get a job if his plan of becoming a rap star falls through?

After a quick Google search and a frank talk with two dozen secondary students, I realised that it's not just him; children the world over are posting videos of themselves doing thoughtless, disturbing and sometimes illicit things all in the name of entertainment or upping their "cool" status.

In July, a group of teenage boys fed laxatives to a flock of hungry pigeons and then uploaded footage of the mayhem that ensued. There are countless videos of teenagers beating other teenagers up. It's not just the class clowns, either. Last year, a YouTube video showed a top Hong Kong student who is now at Harvard screaming profanities at another student. The video was later removed.

Yes, teenagers have been swearing, fighting, partying, and playing pranks on others since the beginning of time. But what has changed is that, today, they're being a lot more public about it: they're uploading, tweeting, Tumblring and Facebooking all their misdeeds.

This failure to understand or care about what is "public" and what should remain private is the fundamental difference between this generation and earlier ones, and it's a dangerous difference. It doesn't seem to register with many youngsters today that once a video is on the internet, it never really disappears. In their extreme eagerness to click "share", they are limiting their future options before they are old enough or mature enough to make that decision.

The ramifications are huge. If older kids are increasingly public about all their wild exploits, younger kids will think it's OK and start to copy them.

Shortly after the Hong Kong Kids video was uploaded, I heard a bunch of our 12-year-old students talking excitedly about it. "Can you believe it? He's so cool!" they said. I cringed.

"So what?" the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world would say. Isn't that the beauty of the social media revolution - the fact that sharing is always better than hiding? I say "no". Sharing is one thing but the internet is written in pen, not pencil.

In 10 years, when these kids are writing their résumés for employment, will they still think these videos are so cool?

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.