Paris Riots – How the Youth PCC was found to be less than PC

April 8, 2013

Like any good wannabe social media commentator, my ears pricked up this weekend at the blanket media coverage of the twitter indiscretions of Paris Brown, Kent’s new “Youth PCC”.

Trying to get a bit of perspective on the whole affair, I read through her ill-advised and indefensible tweets with one important fact lurking at the back of a mind which was ready to get well and truly judgmental – she’s only seventeen. Does she really deserve the media attention she’s received and the ire of so many commentators?

As usual, the Daily Mail led the charge towards balanced social critique with a headline every bit as tasteless as some of Brown’s tweets: “Is this foul-mouthed, self-obsessed Twitter teen really the future of British policing?”  Paul Dacre should read some of the comments on his own site’s comment board if he really thinks that Brown’s comments are atypical.

So, thanks to my liberal guilt over the Twitter mob sparking up their pitchforks over the whole affair but without any hint of the tweets being excusable if sent by anyone, let alone someone who although young holds a very high-profile job, I felt a slight tinge of sympathy for Brown. Right up until she started her tearful confessional detailing how her comments “were taken out of context”, were “misinterpreted” and that she “didn’t want people judging her based on a few stupid things that she wrote and didn’t mean”.

My first reaction was fairly simple: cry me a river. Having had a couple of hours to mull it over though, I’m firmly of the conclusion that the lesson here doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Brown is the right person for her job – on her tweets, she almost certainly isn’t-  but it defies belief that she wasn’t properly prepared before becoming the poster girl for what some see as a PR stunt funded by the public purse. Her views are inexcusable, but tweets like hers are sadly common – we all rant and Twitter gives us a forum to do so.

The real lesson here is for the social media generation. Brown was happy to feature in publicity announcing her appointment and handled the backlash over her tweets poorly, but in a way which is at least expected for someone with no training on how to deal with the media (online and offline) when its gaze is less than benign.

What she’s learning now, and very painfully, is that what you say online has real consequences in the real world. More and more cases in the employment tribunal revolve around social media comments and, despite the data protection and human rights issues involved in online vetting, I’d bet that most employers take a look at candidates before employing them. It seems odd if not daft that Brown’s new employers didn’t do the same.

Even tweets from three years in Brown’s past have already cast a long shadow over her brief time in the sun, and rightly so given what they said. Maybe it’s time for schools to educate on social media and its ethics, as well as the potential consequences of tweeting in haste and repenting at leisure in a world where the crowd sometimes isn’t any wiser than any one of its members.

The Twitterati’s anger is justified in this case, but maybe the real fault lies with Kent Constabulary for not doing proper due diligence on the new recruit they were happy to push in front of a camera?

There’s no excuse for Brown’s views, just as there’s no excuse for losing sight of the fact that social media is now mainstream, and it’s the responsibility of every parent (and should be of our education system) to prepare the social media generation for fails in the same way as successes.




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