Happy Internet Erasure Day
Before Thanksgiving, we should all get to wipe something from the record.
I want to propose a new holiday: Internet Erasure Day.
Let’s say today, November 24. Just in time to breathe a grateful sigh of relief before Thanksgiving.
Here’s how we celebrate: All of us who spend a lot of (okay, too much) time on the online will be entitled to choose something that makes us want to curl up into a little ball and die of shame — a bad-taste tweet, an embarrassing Facebook album from 2007 with 56 pictures from a single happy hour, that weird trying-to-be-professional headshot that keeps popping up in Google Images — and demand that everyone in the world delete it from their memory and never think about it or mention it again.
This is kind of in the spirit of Reply All’s “Email Debt Forgiveness Day”: a made-up holiday (but all holidays are made up so it’s okay!) designed specifically to make us feel better.
If you breathed a sigh of relief just thinking about Internet Erasure Day, that probably means you have something out there that you regret, like I do. Let me tell you about it.
In 2009, I was a miserable law firm associate working in DC when I got the bright idea, like many lawyers do, that what I actually wanted to do was write. With a little luck, some help from a generous mentor who introduced me to an editor at an online publication, I was able to get my first essay published. And it went viral! Keep in mind, I didn’t even know what viral was … I wasn’t very into the internet, and I wasn’t familiar with the term “hate clicks” so I didn’t quite understand the nature of the attention it was getting. But, yeah, a lot of it was not positive.
There was a good reason for that. In the self-congratulatory rant, titled “What Single Women Can Learn From Michelle Obama,” I basically lectured other black women about how we needed to lower our standards and settle for nerds and goofballs and people with holes in the bottom of their cars. Stop being so choosy! Be less judgy and you’ll find a husband! (I think today, they’d call someone like me a “pick me.”) To bolster my point I bragged about the actually-not-that-great relationship I was in at the time. Did I think I had something to offer the world? Yes. Was it a tone-deaf, incorrect, condescending mess? Absolutely.
I was a very naive, very sincere troll. And the kicker is, that regrettable essay launched my transition to journalism and led indirectly to the career I have now. Just like today’s provocateurs and jerks, I racked up page views and was rewarded with more opportunities. A click is a click.
The essay is kind of a joke in my household now. My husband (not the person in the piece — surprise!) gently roasts me about it, threatening to retaliate and “remind Twitter about the Michelle Obama essay” whenever I publicly make fun of him for things like destroying his hair by using clarifying shampoo twice every day. We laugh about it, but the full-body cringe I experience when I think about people stumbling upon that piece of writing — or God forbid, it somehow going viral again — is real.
On the one hand, this is stupid. The country is in absolute shambles and there’s a pandemic — nobody cares about an ancient blog post about dating! On the other hand, I care. In part because I’m always rolling my eyes about complaints about “cancel culture,” and going on and on about how people with access to large platforms should be able to handle a little criticism (or a lot!) when they write ignorant, laughable, or insensitive things. And I know that if someone wanted to, during a slow enough news week, they could make me the Main Character of the Day on Twitter. And that would be fair.
So here I am, resurfacing the essay, saying how dumb it was, apologizing, and hoping you join me in pretending it never existed. And I’m happy to return the favor.
I feel better already.
Happy Internet Erasure Day to those who choose to celebrate. What would you like to strike from the record?
By the way, I’m Jenée Desmond-Harris, a writer and editor currently working in Opinion at the New York Times. A few times a month, I’ll be using this space to share any thoughts that are too long for a three-tweet thread.