November 23 was a game day. Not even a real game day -- an exhibition game day. Tulsa's Booker T. Washington girls' basketball team was among Oklahoma's best and summoning a burst of enthusiasm for a certain win in a meaningless match was unlikely.
Inside the gym at nearby Sand Springs High School, the expected rout went ahead as planned, with Tiffany -- whose real identity we are keeping anonymous -- doing her part by contributing a handful of buckets. Track and field, in which she was a state runner-up in the 4x200 meter relay, is her true passion. But Tiffany's height and ability had made her a valuable low post player since she first pulled on her No. 2 jersey in middle school.
She was pulling that jersey off, alone in a corner of the visitor's locker room, when she heard the first burst of laughter.
"Granny panties." That's all it took. One shout, a point and a locker room full of escalating teenage giggles and taunts. Tiffany never really thought there was anything remarkable about her underwear, but at this moment, that's what somehow shoved the normally reserved sophomore into the center of attention.
"I was pointed out by my teammate, for the whole team to look at me," Tiffany recalls. "The trainer just ran over there and was like, 'Oh my gosh! We have to take a picture of this, we gotta get this!'"
"My underwear, they were basically making fun of my underwear." And then they were holding out their cell phones, aiming them at the semi-undressed then-16-year-old. A phone would never fit into even the broadest definition of a weapon, but consider the damage they're now capable of and it can become, at the least, a very threatening object.
"They asked me if they can put it on Twitter and I said 'No.' And I didn't want them to take the picture at all." But that didn't matter.
Moments later, Tiffany found herself being restrained by one of her few close friends on the team. "My teammate held me down. The one who spotted me out, who noticed me. I was basically telling them 'No, stop!' repeatedly, begging them not to. Like 'Don't take the picture.'"
The strange episode played out slowly for the star sprinter, who says she wondered in disbelief, "Oh my gosh, is this really happening? Are they really about to do this?"
"They held me down. Laughing. One of them snapped the picture. I wasn't shouting. They were laughing so I was just trying to get them off me."
By the time she did, the image was locked away in the camera of the team trainer, also a student. But for the moment, that was still the only place the humiliating photo of Tiffany in her underwear existed.
Tiffany was one of the last to leave the locker room. After she finished getting changed, she caught up to her teammates as everyone was getting ready to hit the road outside. A group of the girls pleaded with her to let them post the humiliating photo on Twitter.
"I said 'No'. Some of the girls were saying, 'Don't put it on there!' and some were like, 'Put it on there!' The trainer told me, to my face, 'I'm not gonna put it on there. I'm not gonna do it. Chill. Relax.' But I know she didn't delete that picture."
Driving home after the game, her mind not at all occupied with anything having to do with basketball, Tiffany was feeling better because the trainer said she "wasn't gonna put it on there."
"But in the back of my mind I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh. What if she puts it on there?'"
Brave New World
Here's an easy challenge: Think of a dreadful day in high school.
That time you accidentally walked into the wrong bathroom? The day you stood at the blackboard, humiliated for 10 minutes, because your math teacher wouldn't let you sit back down until you wrote the correct answer?
Worse, maybe it was the day you were jumped in the hallway, shoved against a wall and cringed in heart-racing fear before landing on the wrong end of a blur of insults, kicks and punches.
We all had bad days in high school. It's a common denominator of our adolescence shared across generations. But those days were never overshared. Awful as they were, they were ours. Usually. The collateral embarrassment of walking around with your zipper down or being mocked by the jocks for your outfit was typically limited to those present and whoever caught word through the usual well-oiled gossip channels.
But not anymore. According to a survey of about 500 teenagers by Y Combinator partner Garry Tan, 68% of those surveyed are on Facebook, 61% use Tumblr and more than 20% are on Twitter and Instagram. Now any private humiliation can be considerably amplified, served up to a public audience. A public and unforgiving audience.
This is why the world now associates "Steubenville, Ohio," with sexual assault. A terrifying, criminal -- but inherently private -- incident would have remained relatively isolated within the confines of that community were it not for the shocking decision to share images of a passed-out teenager being raped on social media. Now, that teen must deal not only with what happened to her, but the fact that it was launched onto laptops and spread virally.
To a considerably lesser extent, the same sort of thing is happening in schools and communities across the country. Those jocks who laughed at your too-short pants and Christmas sweater? They just posted a photo of your outfit on Facebook so their combined 3,000 friends can make fun of you, too. Someone else just put the picture on Twitter, which, because content there is much more publicly accessible, means some kid nobody knows who lives 1,000 miles away just retweeted it -- and your name -- to his 400 followers. Keep an eye on your inbox and Wall; it's about to get brutal.
Social media is the new permanent record. Those two dreaded words traditionally refer to the less flattering elements of your personal history, slipped into a manila folder, privately stashed away in the principal's beige, metal filing cabinet. Now it's every offensive tweet, racy post or God-I-hope-my-mom/teacher/coach/college admissions officer-never-sees-this text you have ever sent or received. There is no manila folder and, wow, there is breathtakingly nothing private about it.