Learning from our tweeting elders — or not

Comparing the consequences of online missteps by state legislator, Rogers student.

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"No matter how I meant it, [it] doesn't matter," Reid Sagehorn told the Star Tribune about his online troubles. "Sarcasm doesn't belong on the Internet."

Photo: Mark Vancleave, Special to the Star Tribune

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A Minnesota legislator draws national attention for a racially tinged tweet and, it appears, his penalty is nothing more than personal embarrassment. A Rogers High School student suggests an inappropriate relationship with a teacher in a two-word online post, and his life is instantly altered.

First, the background. State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, stepped in Twitter dung this weekend with this missive: “Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime.”

Garofalo spent much of Monday apologizing — even though, as he explained to reporters, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

That’s good to hear, although no one has explained why Garofalo felt the need to comment on the NBA in the first place. Our guess: He had a smartphone and a thought — a really stupid thought — and shared it with the world. It happens. Apology accepted.

Reid Sagehorn, the student, was asked in an online forum last month if he had “made out” with a teacher. His answer — “Yes, actually,” which he later described as sarcasm — led to the suspension and, ridiculously, to a suggestion from law enforcement that he might face a felony charge. (After a brief review, the Hennepin County attorney’s office said that no crime had been committed.)

Sagehorn, who has transferred to another school, apologized in writing to the teacher who was victimized by the false rumors and spoke with a reporter. “No matter how I meant it, [it] doesn’t matter,” he ultimately told the Star Tribune. “Sarcasm doesn’t belong on the Internet.”

It happens. Apology accepted.

But isn’t it fascinating that for similar online transgressions, a 17-year-old suffered greater consequences than a 42-year-old legislator? So much for maturity being the key to responsible use of social media.

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