This week editor Rob Alderson says the social media generation need to decide how online profiles and public life intersect. As ever you can add your thoughts using the discussion thread below…
It was a typical Daily Mail headline that started it all, all spluttering spite and rhetorical questions. “Is this foul-mouthed, self-obsessed Twitter teen really the future of British policing? Youth crime tsar’s sex and drug rants.” And so began three days of public villification of Paris Brown, the 17-year-old recently appointed as Britain’s first youth police commissioner, culminating in her resignation yesterday.
Combing through her Twitter feed, the Mail journalist had tracked down various Tweets which – they rightly predicted – could be used as red-raw meat to be fed to the vicious sharks of public opinion. And so yesterday, with a plea to be left alone, Paris Brown stepped down and we were all left to reflect on a shoddy episode.
There is no question that some of the views Paris expressed were unedifying at best, offensive at worst, particularly those with a homophobic or racist slant.
But these were not Tweets sent recently – some went back as much as three years when Paris was just 14. Of course we have to take responsibility for anything we put in the public domain. But how many of us might have said or done stupid things when we were in our early teens that we wouldn’t want to haunt the rest of our lives? And as for the “foul-mouthed” Tweets about sex, drinking and (soft) drugs, how many of us can relate these experiences to our formative years?
This is not a column about wanting our politicians to be “real people” – these arguments have been covered elsewhere. But rather it’s a call for sanity. The generations that have grown up with social media have the chance to draw a line under this. As we take our places in the world – particularly in the media and in politics – but also as voters, isn’t it time we who understand social media mores so naturally can unite to agree that teenage boasting should not be used against us in later years?
Being tech-savvy is not just about knowing how to send an email, it’s about recognising the way the online world works on its many nuanced levels.