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Watch what you text

Published: Thu, February 23, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.

Fatty... Loser... Buckwheat... POS...

By Karl Henkel



The term is more common at a childhood playground than in a professional political spat.

Yet “fatty” and “LOSER” were David Betras’ words of choice in a heated text exchange with Mahoning County commissioner candidate Richard “Oz” Ouzounian.

That private text exchange is now part of the public stage as an outraged Ouzounian distributed them to the media, and Betras apologized.

Betras, a household name locally as an attorney and Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, joins other household names — whether they are athletes, celebrities or politicians — who have had questionable private messages go public.

Add to text messages the commonplace occurrences of testy Facebook conversations, flippant Twitter comments, digital voicemails and emails, and it’s apparent no conversation is completely private.

But one specialist suggests the technology, in a sense, makes us more bold.

Patrick J. Bateman, assistant professor of information systems at Youngstown State University’s Williamson College of Business, said salty messages such as those from Betras are not surprising.

“The technology creates a feeling of intimacy,” he said. “You have this psychological boundary you’ve created.”

Text messages “are easy to replicate, save, search and disseminate,” he added.

The text-message scandals are nothing new, and Betras’ messages weren’t even the most offensive printed in Wednesday’s Vindicator.

“I just received my Obama stimulus package. It was 3 pieces of chicken, a pack of kool-aid and a dime bag. Did you get yours?” was a text from the phone records of Bret Hartup, an assistant city prosecutor. It came to light as evidence in a discrimination lawsuit against the city. The records are unclear who wrote the text, but opponents of Youngstown Prosecutor Jay Macejko, who’s running for county attorney, allege he is the author. He denies it.

Bateman says in this situation he was surprised by the actual comment, and not the fact it came from a text message.

“Why is an official communicating that in any form to somebody?” he asked. “How is everyone OK with that? It has nothing to do with being released in a text message.”

Even if the sender had recognized his mistake and later deleted the offensive message, that text is not destroyed permanently.

Only a phone company can do that in most cases.

“We do hold onto messages for a short period of time, and they are available if law enforcement has a reason to access that information,” said Laura Merritt, a regional spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, who said customers do not have access to view text messages no longer stored in their phones. “We don’t divulge that period of time, but it’s not forever.”

Don’t believe it? Just ask former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose sexually charged text messages between him and a former staffer led to the unraveling of Kilpatrick’s political career.

The risks in this new technology era surpass text messages.

Last September, amid tense contract talks, a faculty committee distributed by email a four-page report called “Use Your Own Sense of Justice and Fairness.” The report encouraged faculty to withhold participation in meetings and abstain from additional work.

The email was supposed to stay faculty-only, but it quickly became public. A university spokesman said at the time it was “unfortunate” that union leadership would send out such a letter.

Last February, state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, in a heated Facebook exchange, unleashed the term “Buckwheat” on an Ohio woman’s status update. As a black person was part of the multiperson exchange, it was deemed racial. But the comment appeared to be in response to a white person’s comment, not the black person’s. The next day, Hagan said the post was not racist and that “Buckwheat” is a term he’s used for years. It still has life on the Internet, though.

Bateman said anyone using text messaging or social media should tread lightly to avoid a Hagan-like situation.

“My rule is, don’t say something using electronic media unless you’re sure that message is OK to come out some other way at some point in time.”

In the aftermath of “fatty,” Betras has created his own new rule.

“Don’t text when you’re mad,” he said. “People are going to say mean things about me, and I can’t respond to that. I just gotta have a thicker hide.”


1LtMacGowan(708 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

how about letting kids fight it out on the playground like we did in our youths instead of preventing them from resolving it and letting it boil over until one guns the other one down. When 30 seconds of pushing and wrestling on the ground could have resolved it.

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2LtMacGowan(708 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

Ooops I thought I was commenting on something else... still my point is none the less valid.

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3Lifes2Short(3882 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

Whatever happened to the old rhyme ...

"Sticks and Stones may break my bones
but names will never hurt me."

Society is getting way to soft.

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4gingerspice(141 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago


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5northsideart(111 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

So this is what passes for front-page news in Y-town these days? Here's a headline for ya: "Tax Revenues Increase While Area's Collective IQ Continues to Plummet."

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6LoveWins(35 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

Is professionalism completely lost on this town?

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7legend33(169 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

This country has gone to the wussies! I'm tired of everybody being polictically correct.

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8BIGDOG69(27 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago


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9mickeyg(6 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

it is funny how we want to dismiss things when they dont fit our little schedule.

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10Ytownnative(1121 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

this is youngstown were the select few get to do and say what they want. if this was a republican the pitchforks and torches would come out.

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11JoeFromHubbard(1742 comments)posted 4 years, 3 months ago

When I was a kid we used to say something about sticks and stones breaking bones but words will never hurt me. I'm either very ancient or this nation has become one of thin skinned wimps. Today we're so terribly "offended and hurt" by a few comments that don't mean a thing.
Get over it and move on.

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