My grandfather, Tomas Regalado Molina, was a political prisoner incarcerated for over 20 years for exerting his right to free speech. When I met him shortly after his release from prison in 1979, he was a frail, quiet man, nothing like the dapper gentleman I had seen in photographs growing up. He picked me up from school every afternoon and over our café con leche, we recapped the day's events. Persistent to a fault, every day, without fail, I asked about his time in prison, and every day the response was the same: "lets talk about that tomorrow dear, so tell me which of Marcus Aurelius' meditations applies today?" I would then reach into my book bag, pull out meditations and flip through it until we found an applicable one.
The week before last, as I read the paper that was full of horror stories involving Facebook, I thought of my grandfather and of one of his favorite meditations by Marcus Aurelius: "Remember this -- that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life." The words lingered as I read about the latest turn in the Rebecca Sedgwick suicide, about the Miami-Dade County public school teacher who we dismissed based on evidence posted on her Facebook page and her students' Instagram sites, about the teacher in Pompano Beach who was arrested for using Facebook to solicit sex from several of her students and about the Florida student's selfie that went viral because his teacher was having labor pains in the background of the photograph. And just when I thought the social media barrage couldn't get worse, up popped a late breaking news item on the husband who posted pictures of his dead wife on Facebook and took the opportunity to announce that he had just killed her.
Interestingly, amid all these social media driven stories, there was no mention of the recent changes made by Facebook regarding minors. The social network, which is about to celebrate its 10-year anniversary, has relaxed its regulations for users who are between 13 and 17 years of age. Now, these minors have the option to share photos and comments with the general public instead of being limited to their friends and friends of friends. Also, the information about these minors' likes, dislikes and posts will no longer be protected by Facebook but will be collected by marketing companies that can advertise directly to them, like they do to Facebook users over 17 years old.
The announcement, which was made on Facebook's blog, is expected to help the company better compete with other sites like Twitter, Instagram and Last.fm, which have no limitations for users under 18. Facebook spokesmen defended the change saying that when teenagers go to post information, a pop up message will remind them that their information will be accessible to the general public. And if there was a doubt as to inadequacy of said pop up, we need only look at the cyber response from hundreds of teenagers who rejoiced in the fact that Facebook had "finally recognized their right to free speech."
Today, I ask you to consider how social media platforms are changing the way we interact. To consider the impact that constant access to thoughtless chatter is having on our society and what example our own constant use of social media is setting for our children and grandchildren. Because while we all have the right to freedom of expression, that right does not entitle us to offend, degrade, insult, belittle and demean other human beings. And much like in the physical world, "there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act [in cyberspace]." Today, I ask that you consider talking to your children and grandchildren about proper and improper uses for social media, and that you remind them that while they may only see a smart phone, a keyboard or a Facebook profile, in this our new Facebook Nation, behind the technology, there is still a person: a person who is reading those posts and seeing those pictures, a person who is entitled to respect.