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Obama speech to kids touches on the dangers of.... Facebook?

By Matthew Shaer / September 8, 2009

Students at Robert E. Lee high school in Staunton, Va., watch video of President Barack Obama's speech to students on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The Daily News Leader/Pat Jarrett

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After days of vitriol, hand-wringing, and the occasional outburst, the dreaded moment arrived: President Barack Obama delivered a speech to students.

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As expected, the address touched on big-picture stuff: staying in school, fighting poverty, tamping down on discrimination, setting goals, the importance of critical thinking and working hard. Oh yeah – and social networking.

That's right: About the most controversial thing to come out of the much-ballyhooed school speech was the president's warning on the perils of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. During a question-and-answer session with students, Obama was asked if he had any advice on getting to the White House. And boy, did he ever.

"Well, let me give you some very practical tips," Obama said. "First of all, I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the YouTube age, whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life. And when you're young, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff. And I've been hearing a lot about young people who – you know, they're posting stuff on Facebook, and then suddenly they go apply for a job and somebody has done a search."

This from the BlackBerry president – the man so in touch with the digital revolution that he strong-armed the Secret Service into letting him keep his mobile phone. Still, he's got a point. As Reuters points out, a score of new studies have shown that employers are increasingly combing social networks for informal background checks on potential employees.

Obama's schools speech had drawn major fire from conservatives, who worried that the president was attempting – in the words of some prominent commentators – to "indoctrinate" America's children. Still, Obama isn't the first president to speak directly to school children. In 2001, George W. Bush urged kids to donate a dollar to America’s Fund for Afghan Children; ten years before that, George H.W. Bush was criticized by Democrats for conducting a teleconference with students on the topic of math and science.

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