When Nick Pappas Looks in the Mirror, He Should See Saida Grundy

Earlier today on this blog, Arianne Shahvisi has offered a very cogent analysis of why the criticism of Saida Grundy has served a very entrenched political and cultural perspective and why the administrative response to it represents an egregious exercise in silencing what is legitimate criticism of that perspective and, worse, even an implicit endorsement of what Grundy has been attempting to criticize.

I have previously done several posts on the ironies in the “outraged” response to the Grundy’s tweets—first, the irony that the president of Boston University seems essentially to have stigmatized her personally as a racist simply for making very provocative, but broader comments about racism and, second, the irony that her most vehement critics on the Far Right have unwittingly exposed their own deep cultural biases—their own very selective sense of what might be considered tasteless or offensive—in attempting to call her to task for the tweets.

I have subsequently been struck by a further irony.

Grundy’s most salient individual critic has been Nick Pappas, who has created and coordinates the website SoCawlege. It was Pappas who collected Grundy’s tweets, offered an initial critique of them, and thereby drew attention to them. It suddenly occurred to me that Pappas, identified as a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has created at least as much digital “baggage” for himself as Grundy’s tweets have become for her.

For the rest of his life, whenever a potential employer does a search of Nick Pappas’ name, So Cawlege is going to be one of the more prominent results both because of the size of the site and because of the traffic it has generated. He is going to have to “own” not only everything that is on the site itself, but every comment on and link to the site.

Whenever Pappas says something that a co-worker or a client finds insensitive, if not offensive, there is going to be a substantial digital record that allows that co-worker or client (or his or her attorney) to make a case against Pappas. For most potential employers, the issue will not be one of fairness but, instead, one of potential distraction and liability. Even if Pappas is fortunate enough to operate his own business, this digital “baggage” will almost inevitably cost him some customers.

Indeed, even if Pappas were to remove the site tomorrow, that digital record will be archived for the foreseeable future.

So, unless Pappas manages to carve out a career for himself as a political commentator, it is very difficult to see how SoCawlege, with its very pointed ideological slant, is going to be anything but a professional disadvantage to him.

In effect, Pappas is very likely to discover exactly what Saida Grundy has been experiencing over the last month or so: that the “digital record” means that someone bent on undermining your professional reputation does not need to have the skills of an experienced investigative reporter in order to do so.

I can honestly say that I would not wish that sort of experience on anyone.

Unfortunately for Pappas, even if he eventually comes to share that perception, his “moment of recognition” is unlikely to provoke much additional sympathy for him.


3 thoughts on “When Nick Pappas Looks in the Mirror, He Should See Saida Grundy

  1. So your whole point is that you are miffed about the situation and now simply hope the messenger gets what you think is due him.


    • If that is how you have read the post, I guess that I can live with that reading of it.

      But although I may not have articulated it clearly, I was actually trying to get at something at least a little more nuanced.

      In the midst of what is becoming a recurring cycle of controversies involving social media, it has become very apparent that much of the outrage is being manufactured simply to serve an ideological purpose. In most cases, no individual has been the target of the language deemed to be unconscionably “offensive.” (The one exception may be the case involving Prof. McAdams at Marquette, in which the graduate student who was the target of his blog posts actually suffered some direct consequences.) So the incidents become flashpoints in the broader, ongoing ideological conflicts that define just about every aspect of our public discourse: that is, the incidents generate media and political attention that is generally as brief as it is intense. But they may very well end up permanently damaging careers.

      Generally, those who stoke the controversies remain relatively faceless, and the damage is almost entirely one-way, absorbed solely by the target. But, it suddenly occurred to me that, in this instance, Pappas may end up in basically the same position that Grundy now finds herself in. (Again, the only other notable instance in which this has been true has been the McAdams case, in which he has arguably suffered more severe consequences than the graduate student who was the target on his blog posts.)

      If I could give younger people advice that they might actually take to heart, it would be to use social media much more judiciously than most of them seem to use it. When I was starting my career, my more intemperate remarks were generally made in hallways or in meetings or, at worst, in a note, written or typed on a piece of paper. Relatively little of all of that went into my personnel file, which was really the only permanent record of some of the things that I later wished that I could retract or erase. In contrast, social media creates a personal, digital history that is very hard to escape.

      Moreover, because the controversies are not really important in themselves but only for what they ostensibly illustrate, no one really cares very much, if at all, about context. Indeed, in the case of tweets, the medium itself seems purposely intended to eliminate context as a consideration.

      So, it seems very unlikely to me that anyone is going to consider the context in which Pappas has critiqued Grundy and others and much more likely that his comments are going to be cherry-picked to his disadvantage. The truth is that no one, whether their political ideology is Far Right or Far Left, wants to hire someone who may potentially be a major distraction or liability. It seems also likely that no one who is now applauding Pappas or criticizing him will be aware of whatever consequences he ultimately confronts at some future date.

      So, I think that I can say that I don’t hope that Pappas “gets what . . . is due him” because, honestly, I don’t actually care one way or another what ultimately happens to him.

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