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Digital Citizenship and the Perils of our Past

We have a shared responsibility for how young people manage their digital identity.


  1. It's April 2013; Margaret Thatcher, has died and so too have the aspirations of a young woman who was briefly the country's first youth crime commissioner.

    Our story starts with Paris appearing on BBC Breakfast with Ann Barnes, Kent Police and crime commissioner. Paris is articulate, engaging and enthusiastic about her new role. Most of us, I'm sure, were wishing Paris and Kent police, success in this initiative. Anything that could help our young people to feel a sense of value, show consideration and care for each other must be worth supporting, right?
  2. Paris Brown interviewed on BBC Breakfast with Ann Barnes
  3. There are many messages and themes within my work relating to digital citizenship, and two of the most important (and hardest to grasp) are; Post like your enemies are watching and nothing can be deleted.

    Most of us will struggle to believe that we have enemies. Enemies may be friends, colleagues, classmates, family, who in very simple terms are envious of some elements of our lives. If we interact within the public domain then we increase the likelihood that someone, somewhere will want to criticise us or expose elements of our lives we would wish to keep private. In these increasingly difficult economic times where jobs are vulnerable and the threat of redundancy casts a dark shadow across the country it is of little surprise that there is resentment when we see people 'less deserving' than ourselves gaining success.

    Besides, we can't all be loved by everyone. Not everyone likes broccoli.

    I also ask those who attend my sessions; 'Who wants to appear in the Daily Mail?'

    It is understandable that many young people and adults struggle to see the link between comments they post on social media and how they may some time in the near or distant future be scrutinised - and they will be held to account.

    I take no delight in the following and I won't be walking around smugly uttering; 'I told you so.'

    So, somebody, probably many people, decided to seek and follow Paris Brown's digital footprints and we watched with grim acceptance, the demise of Paris Brown's dreams and hopes.

    Enter The Daily Mail.
  4. And let the debate begin.

    We see Paris shocked to her very core that comments she'd posted on Twitter when she was 'younger' are now taken 'out of context'. So, too, Ann Barnes also suggests that we shouldn't judge an individual on their Twitter account alone.  'Out of context' is a very useful phrase and we've seen this in previous cases where teachers, politicians and other professionals discover that what we say online is real and we will be held accountable.
  5. Let's not forget the outstanding teacher..
  6. Or the police officer..
  7. We could pause for a moment to look at the content and messages within the tweets of Paris. They are a miserable display of hatred, obscenity and intolerance  and whilst we can accept that in the cruel scrutiny of the media Paris is sorry, I do not think it is fair to describe this as normal bravado of the youth of today. Whether uttered online or in our analogue 'real world', as parents, teachers and adults we have a responsibility to teach our children that this kind of language and expression is never appropriate or acceptable.

    The endless demonising of young people is tedious and destructive and conveniently ignores the fact that adults are role models and we should not be surprised that young people post the same offensive language online as teachers, police officers and the rest of adult society.
  8. As a parent it is distressing to watch a young girl reduced to tears of misery and humiliation on national television. A google image search shows endless images of Paris overcome with sadness and in years, in decades, to come, those images will be out there. There for her to see. for her children - and her grandchildren.
  9. Youth PCC Paris Brown apologises over 'inappropriate' tweets
  10. Eager to be seen to do the right thing, the police 'investigate' comments made by Paris and we're invited to debate whether she has committed a criminal offence.
  11. Archie Bland, of The Independent, comments; 'It’s a shambolically depressing story, and its main beats are likely to recur: nearly all of Ms Brown’s generation are risking this sort of thing, including whichever among them ends up prime minister. But at some point, if we want to have anyone unrobotic in public life at all, we will have to get used to the idea that a teenager’s tweets are roughly as substantial and indicative of character as her shouts in the playground; we will have to realise that the real blame in circumstances such as these should be placed not on the hapless teenager, but on the incompetent grown-ups who let her be humiliated.

    That Ann Barnes hung on to her job yesterday while a 17-year-old lost hers suggests we have not got there yet.'

  12. What should we take from this? Stop saying this is a young people problem. Paris entered an online world where adults and young people believe they can write the most appalling hateful comments and she got caught. How many of our friends, colleagues and peers have also modeled inappropriate and offensive behavior online?

    It is not that the words of Paris Brown were unsuitable for someone serving in public office - they are unsuitable and unwelcome in all areas of our society. As parents, teachers and adults we have much still to do before we can hold our heads high and say we stand for decency, fairness and tolerance.

    I am @simfin.