Twitter posts will doom us all… but only for a little while longer
I confess I arrived late to the whole Paris Brown thing. I spent the weekend at the Liberty League Freedom Forum reminding myself how much I hate tax and distrust government.
On the face of things, it seemed like the usual Twitter hurricane of faux outrage. Let’s face it; if there’s one thing Twitter does well it’s providing a platform for the Professionally Offended. But straight away I thought that there was something more to the story, something deeper, and I think more worrying. This was not just another case of freedom of speech vs. political correctness.
In my opinion it’s a bit of a stretch to call Paris Brown a political figure. Who had even heard of a Youth Crime Commissioner two weeks ago? But that being said, she was in a position of public scrutiny, and the Daily Mail did what a free press should do and held government figures to account in the public interest. But did they? Miss Brown made her comments when she was 14. Granted, she was still young when she was in office, but in terms of maturity it was a life time ago. Did they affect her ability to do her job? Do we think she still holds those views now? The answer to both is probably not. So why the fuss?
It is partly a symptom of our age. We want those who represent us to be a veritable Janus. On the one hand we want them to be approachable, relatable, down to earth figures in whom we can see part of ourselves. But on the other hand, we demand they be purer than the driven snow; to be utterly without sin or flaw; to be of supreme moral virtue. We want them to be us, but without the flaws. We want them to be a better version of us.
Clearly, these are contradictory aspirations. To my reckoning, there are only two ways such mental gymnastics can be achieved; employ none but schizophrenics, or be prepared for politicians to spend most of their time and effort covering up their human flaws. (An excellent and eloquent take on this is afforded us by Stephanie Navaro, who is also a young politician. I highly recommend a read.)
The Paris Brown case matters more than most because for possibly the first time a political figure has been pressured to quit because of something she tweeted before she entered office. Today’s leaders are too old to have to worry about this, but for our generation this should get us more than a little twitchy. The ultra young political careerist needn’t worry of course; for they’ll have been running the most dull and sanitised Twitter accounts imaginable, slavishly retweeting nothing but BBC News and the official party accounts. But for those of us with a soul who have half a mind on politics this could be cause to start trawling though our thousands of tweets, frantically deleting anything that may, possibly, be used against us in 20 years time.
But it won’t stop with politics. It won’t be long before job applicants of all descriptions get their Twitter history scrutinised for undesirable posts. It’ll probably start with media sensitive industries like newspapers, public sector roles, PR, NGOs and charities. But the natural trend of things is for this habit to spread and become as common as a CRB check.
So should we all be tweeting with half an eye on the future? From a responsible view, the answer is yes of course. Anything that you post on line is, ironically for a digital platform, indelibly set in stone. But this will have the effect to draining away what makes the internet, and Twitter in particular so fun. If we treat every moment on line like its a job interview, we might as well not bother.
Ever the optimist, I think we need not fear. Numbers and humanity will prevail. Numbers because so much of our lives will be online that it will be simply to tremendous a task to cherry pick questionable posts to use against us. And humanity, because there’s only so many things we can be offended at before it gets exhausting. Rest assured friends, though it seems a long way off, sanity will prevail.