jade roper frecklesLast night my girlfriend and I watched The Bachelor. It’s the final four and we quickly cottoned to Jade Roper, an adorable brunette who bounded with excitement and energy. This particular bachelor, Chris Soules, is a wealthy corn farmer/land baron from rural Iowa.

In 2015 parlance, being from a really small town in rural Iowa is apparently license to be acceptably provincial and judgmental — it’s folksy and he is charming and handsome.

Chris, too, seemed to share our love of Miss Roper. Soules even showed endless understanding and compassion as Jade revealed to him, at her family home, that she had posed for Playboy during a time when she was feeling most free and wild. It almost seemed as if this typecast Good Christian Family Man was coming from a place of grace, a place of love.

Chris+Soules+Chris+Soules+Visits+Good+Morning+5Fra67xt6MClInstead, when the roses were handed out, no rose went to Jade, scarlet woman. My girlfriend is from the Midwest and said that no small town Iowa boy could ever bring a woman “like that” home to his family and community. It would be all anyone would ever talk about for the rest of their tortured lives.

And it wasn’t just Soules who didn’t offer up a rose, the Playboy shoot seemed to be her personal albatross to bear. And, even if she loved doing it, isn’t personally ashamed, and treasures the outcome, her personal experience with how it has affected her romantic life seems to have been profound.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t live out loud, be crazy, embrace your beauty, your body, your passion, your excitement about being eyeballs-deep in a wonderful life, I just want to give you this insight: even “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is a lie. It’s not simply the paparazzi who lie in wait just for celebrities and their kids, it’s potentially everyone.

Even if your lover honors you by keeping those intimate photos private, the chain of access is much longer, deeper, and accessible to anyone who takes an interest and really wants access. In my day, there were slides, prints, negatives, and Polaroids. We kept them in a shoebox. And even then, we could lose control of them. Making copies was hard and each amateur copy made would degrade the quality. Now, copies are exact. An infinite number can be produced immediately and there are powerful distribution channels like reddit and imgur.

justine sacco airportAnd it’s not only embarrassing photos that can haunt you and destroy the life you had planned for yourself. Last week, The New York Times, the newspaper of record, returned to the Justine Sacco Twitter fiasco from 2013. In How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life, we’re reminded about the tweet that changed her life:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Sacco only had 170 followers on Twitter but she was the senior director of corporate communications at IAC, overseeing brands like About.com, Ask.com, Ask.fm, CollegeHumor, The Daily Beast, Vimeo, Chemistry.com, DailyBurn, HowAboutWe, Match.com, OkCupid, The Princeton Review, among others.

So, it wasn’t how many people were following her tweets, it was really just who. And the exactly wrong person was watching at exactly the wrong second as Justine Sacco was en route to South Africa, away from the Internet for 11 hours, in a world where #HasJustineLandedYet was trending globally. It was a perfect storm, though an audit of her Twitter feed did result in more than a baker’s dozen of truly offensive tweets. The impact has been real and long-lasting:

“Well, I’m not fine yet,” Sacco said to me. “I had a great career, and I loved my job, and it was taken away from me, and there was a lot of glory in that. Everybody else was very happy about that.” “I’m single; so it’s not like I can date, because we Google everyone we might date,” she said. “That’s been taken away from me too.”

It was interesting to be reminded that the after effects of these moments in history can endure. That, even a couple years later, the effects can be persistent and damning, especially in light of Google’s unfailing memory of photos, videos, and text.

The last week has been a boon for the online reputation management (ORM) world. “We told you so” is getting old. Maybe it used to be that when you got to your 40s and into your 80s you would look back to the really sexy, risky, chancey, and lawless times of your life with relish, those crazy times fueling the mundane grind of a life of responsibility and obligation; however, in 2015, more kids are transitioning to adulthood with not only “bad tattoo” regret but the the sort of life changing regret that can alter the course of your entire life. In 2015, “what the f&%k” can ruin your life — or at least the life you saw for yourself, built for yourself.

Remember the advice that Tom Cruise gave back in 1983 movie Risky Business? “Sometimes you just gotta say what the f&$k.” Whenever I, myself, back in 1983-93 second-guessed myself or felt shy or scared, I accessed my inner Joel Goodson and took the risk and made the move. Of course, this was at least a decade before the cell phone or the digital camera and a strong twenty-years before the camera phone. As long as I kept out of jail or out of print, my youthful indiscretions were my own.

I know, no fair!

Today, your youthful indiscretions can — and do — become permanent record through social media and other people’s photos that can lie dormant for years and year and then bubble to the surface, though this has always been true. Embarrassing photos taken together in privacy or tasteful nude photos taken off the record have always eventually surfaced when there was money to be made, well before the Fappening, well before the Cloud, before online backup, before hackers or savvy extreme publicists who leak these photos for effect.

To say nothing of the tweet that was heard around the world.