Revolutionary Measures

Be careful what you tweet (part 84)

Logo of the Kent Police.

It is tempting to devote this week’s blog to the passing of Baroness Thatcher and how it has been covered on social media. But essentially this excellent pie chart from @martinbelam sums it up  – see any newspaper for stories to prove his point.

Instead I’ll focus on more recent history – the tweets sent by the UK’s first youth Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Paris Brown, which have forced her resignation. At first glance there’s nothing new here – public official says something stupid online, backtracks but overwhelming moral outrage forces them out and leaves their boss (in this case adult Kent PCC Ann Barnes) with egg on their face. It’s pretty similar to all the social media cock-ups made by brands though obviously it has only come to light due to a newspaper investigation.

But what’s different here is that Brown is just 17 and the tweets (which are being investigated by the police as potentially racist and homophobic) were posted between the ages of 14 and 16. Brown denies the charges, though admits she boasted about sex, drinking and drug-taking on Twitter. Having once been a teenager in pre-Twitter times, I do remember a lot of patently untrue bragging being par for the course.

There’s two things that make me uneasy here. Firstly, how far back are we going to go to incriminate someone? Obviously these tweets are at best stupid, but she was still legally a minor at the time. I think there’s a big difference between something said while under 16 and the regular indiscretions of those in their early twenties, who really should know better.

The second, and equally worrying point, is what happened in the recruitment process? We’re told that she went through a ‘very tough’ interview process but that Kent Police’s vetting procedures didn’t include a basic social media check for someone on her pay scale. No one did even a cursory search on Twitter or Facebook and she was merely asked if there was anything in her past that could embarrass her or her job. Hardly watertight vetting for a high profile (if low paid) role.

We hear a lot about building your personal brand on social networks when looking for a job, following the right people, commenting on their posts and using the power of Twitter to make yourself memorable, recognisable and employable. In the past this was relatively easy as they could start from scratch at 20 or 21 – they didn’t have a guilty Twitter childhood as the social network only dated from 2006. Now we’re at a stage where everyone coming into the workforce has grown up with Facebook, Twitter and other networks – time for kids to either watch what they say or remember to erase their accounts when they hit 16………..

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April 10, 2013 Posted by | PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments