Thinking about former Vancouver NDP candidate Ray Lam, his downfall, and the nature of digital rights.

At times like these, I’m glad to have a relatively small footprint on the web’s lunar landscape. The news this week was about sad-sack NDP candidate Ray Lam – ex-NDP candidate Ray Lam – who was running to represent the Vancouver-False Creek riding in May’s provincial election. The 22-year-old’s prospects came to a crashing halt when it was revealed that… well, when he was revealed, in a variety of suggestive poses, on his Facebook page: in his underwear in one photo, hand on a woman’s chest in another. Not the sort of baby-kissing, flapjack-flipping imagery one needs to launch a career in politics. It’s very easy to criticize Lam’s judgment in publishing such photos (even if, as he claims, it was in the private, invite-only section of the website). It’s easier still to criticize the NDP for not properly vetting the candidate in the first place. But what gets overlooked in all this is the paradigm shift in how younger generations treat the notion of the private/public divide – and the implications for businesses, government and other organizations that will, at some point, have to hire these young people. For those who’ve grown up with Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter – and Lam, at 22, was born and raised in the Age of the Internet – the idea of keeping things private is a foreign concept. Every party photo gets posted, tagged and shared with friends on Facebook; every hobby, talent and indulgence is cataloged on MySpace and YouTube; every thought or observation, indeed every twitch, is tweeted on Twitter. The Internet babies live in the moment, and for Lam it likely wasn’t a consideration, when he posted those pics on Facebook, that he might run for public office one day. Even if he did harbour such aspirations, he probably didn’t – perhaps still doesn’t – see the problem with exposing himself to such an extent. Why would he? All his friends are doing it. It is the new norm. The question nobody’s asking is: will we, as employers and as electors, establish our own new norm? Will we hire the bright, ambitious programmer who’s got a profanity-filled video of his punk-rock band up on MySpace? Will we take on the young engineering student, top of her class, despite angry anarchist blog entries from first-year university? Will we vote for the young community organizer with a slightly randy streak, or banish the aspiring pol for all eternity? The open-book nature of this new generation makes it easier than ever to find reasons for rejection; their personal peccadilloes are laid bare for all the world to see. Whether we can afford to be so roundly dismissive – when companies face looming talent shortages and the level of public cynicism, bred by decades of closed-book politics, has reached a new high – is another matter.