A political thought experiment, if you will: somewhere in an American bar tonight, a 19-year-old woman will get very drunk and do something very stupid, and one of her friends will take a picture of it and post in on Facebook or Instagram (or both) because it's hilarious. Here is the question. Is that woman no longer viable for high office? In 40 years, will an opponent, in the middle of a debate on the GDP-to-debt ratio, turn to the camera with a smile and say, "Yes, she has many interesting ideas, but how we can trust the judgment of a woman who once showed her breasts to celebrate a Mets victory at Señor Frog's?"
The question matters because, very soon, people who came of age after the birth of social media will start to run for office. And all those pictures and videos—flexing in your underwear in front of the mirror, air guitaring to Styx, smoking a joint the size of toy baseball bat, (never mind all the naked pictures) – will enter political discourse. How will the photographed deal with it? And how will voters?
The recent Canadian election offers a kind of distant preview of what is no doubt coming to America. Justin Trudeau is 44, so he's not exactly of the Facebook generation. But because he was a celebrity from birth – coming from the Canadian equivalent of the Kennedys – his entire childhood and adolescence were on record. It's not just the embarrassing photographs of bad facial hair decisions, or a poor effort at celebrity boxing for charity. There was also the time that Trudeau taught a television presenter about his trick of pretending to fall down stairs.
In another era, even the moustache he sports in that video (and that is the verb for that moustache, he sports it) would have been enough to wreck his career. But now that guy's our Prime Minister. He has embraced social media and social media embraced him right back. "Sluts Against Harper" formed on Instagram promising nude pictures to anybody who voted against him. They are in the midst of delivering on those promises right now [NSFW].
At the same time, the Canadian election showed how easily Facebook and Twitter can destroy a political candidate. A Liberal in Calgary was forced to step down after it was discovered she had told somebody to "blow your brains out" on Twitter when she was 17.
The lesson of the Canadian election is that doing stupid stuff online only hurts you if it's the wrong kind of stupidity. Embarrassing stuff, you can survive. Nasty stuff, you can't. Don't say hateful shit if you ever want to have a political career, but go ahead and put up those pictures from Señor Frog's. Voters can understand that politicians are human beings with pasts like their own.
Still, it's kind of weird that this is my new Prime Minister:
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 16, 2012
This article was originally published on Esquire.com