April 9, 2013 2 Comments
By Alex Bryan
Today, Paris Brown, the teenager appointed to be Kent’s first youth police and crime commissioner, resigned from her post after the unearthing of a number of offensive tweets sent throughout her teenage years. After newspapers exposed Brown’s history, Kent Police received high numbers of complaints about her language and the permissive attitude expressed towards drugs, binge drinking and violence, essentially forcing her resignation from the £15,000 a year post.
Brown is by no means the first person to have been caught out by ill-advised social media postings; politics is littered with such incidences. Indeed Chuka Umunna, the millionaire Labour starlet tipped for the top, was this week embarrassed by a post on an exclusive social media site from 2006 in which he bemoaned the ‘trash and C-list wannabes’ in West End nightclubs, demonstrating that social media stupidity is not a blight infecting only the young and naive.
Kent Police admitted that they did not check Brown’s Twitter or Facebook accounts before appointing her, suggesting that it may become part of the vetting process in the future. We should remember that Brown, as the first youth PCC in the country, with a salary bemoaned by the press, was a particular case: she should be blamed for her words but, through no fault of her own, also happened to be stepping onto a public platform circled by a tabloid press at its most predatory. Caught in a confluence of so many of the Daily Mail’s most hated topics, as a symbol of a bloated public sector and of ‘the youth of today’, as soon as her Twitter account was discovered, Brown’s departure was assured.
There should be a zero tolerance attitude towards bigotry and hatred for those wishing to take on positions of power and in this sense it is a relief that Brown has left her post. Those attempting to excuse Brown’s words by appealing to her youth need only remind themselves of Malala Yousafzai, who at 15 is the same age as Brown was when she was tweeting. She surely shows us that youth is no barrier to wisdom.
But not all teenagers are so exceptional, and most teenagers surely lie in between the two: not entirely aware of the eternal nature of social media but also savvy and thoughtful enough to think about whether something is offensive before posting it. But will that thoughtfulness be enough to save them from sharing the same fate as the unfortunate Brown?
Given that Facebook profiles never die, and that few ever delete their Twitter accounts, it is certain that teenagers moving into professional life now have more of their personalities recorded and available for the public to see than any generation before them. Some of those, like Paris Brown, will want to move into politics. Few if any normal teenagers who have grown up with social media will have gone their entire lives without posting anything that, in hindsight, was crass or stupid or unrepresentative of who they actually are.
Some, of course, do. That most hated member of the political class, the fabled career politician, is a prime candidate. It is only those who will have forged a desire to go into politics before they know the entirety of what that means who will tailor the entirety of their social activities towards becoming an MP. One would think that the rise of social media might favour these types even more than the system currently does, but that would be to assume that one can look elegant whilst hoisting themselves onto the greasy pole. William Hague and Boris Johnson are two who took very different paths towards political prominence, but both know that looking smarmy (in Hague’s case) or just plain absurd (in Johnson’s) in one’s youth can haunt one’s later career.
The career politician, then, is as prone to such embarrassing misjudgements as the rest of us. But the question remains of what effect the archive of information amassed by us all will have on future politicians. The answer is not that it will favour those who attempt to look squeaky clean, but that it will favour those who the media favours.
Although Twitter and Facebook records and accounts can be accessed by all, it is newspapers who will put the time and resources into uncovering the minutiae of a political candidates life story. They will more often than not find something. Paris Brown’s words were wrong, but she was savaged by the Daily Mail as much for what she represented as for what she said. The politicians who are best-able to play the media will be those who – like Umunna – escape unscathed. There will even be some who copy Johnson’s techniques and use it as something of a springboard to launch themselves with. Either way, like all information, the social media records of future candidates for high office will be mercy to the media’s machinations. The difference, of course, is that when it comes to social media, everyone has skeletons in their closet.