Social legacy: Paris Brown and the right to learn

This isn’t a post about politics and policing: it’s a post about learning and the legacy of social media. The right to learn and the right to grow up. There’s been a scandal brewing in the UK over the last few days following the appointment of a Youth Police and Crime Commissioner (YPCC) by PCC Ann Barnes. In this case, the YPPC is a seventeen year old girl called Paris Brown, the aim being that Barnes can draw upon the experiences and thinking of her younger colleague.

But after a mere six days in post, Brown has been forced to resign, following a sustained media frenzy about posts she made on Twitter several years ago, which may be deemed homophobic or racist or refer to drugs. Or maybe not. I’ll leave it to you to decide that.

My interest is not primarily in whether she was right or wrong, but rather in where the space remains to be yourself, to make mistakes, to grow up and learn from the experience. Are we right to judge the seventeen year old, who has apologised for the nativity of her younger self, on the basis of Twitter? It should be stressed that she passed the full police screening process as per any other job applicant before taking up the post. For me, this is a conversation about the semi formal spaces that surround the formal, the community spaces that we inhabit and the legacy and impact when it comes to work.

We all know that social media are permanent: go for a job and they’ll have googled you first. That’s the nature of work in the Social Age. Your Facebook, Twitter and blogs, all your social channels, unless specifically deleted or blocked, are on view for all to see. The fact is that i can find out a lot about you in five minutes. But should i judge you on it? Should it be there forever? And should what a fifteen year old girl said be used to judge the seventeen year old women? Do we have the right to make mistakes and learn from them?

If i look around me at my friend groups, the truth is that i wouldn’t have liked some of them when they were younger. They’re a fairly typical crowd, with the odd reprobate, but the thing we all have in common is that none of us are perfect: we’re just fortunate that most of our imperfections happened a while ago. The legacy may live on in our shared memories and best man speeches, but it’s not pasted across the internet. We retain our privacy and i judge them, if at all, on how they act now. I believe people change.

But today, there is no secret history: the legacy of what’s said, what’s done, what’s photographed, is persistent. So where is our right to make mistakes? Do people say stupid things when they’re fifteen and do we really want to hold them to it when they’re twenty, or thirty? Is anyone perfect?

We learn through our mistakes, our views evolve over time: it doesn’t mean we were wrong before, it just means that as we learn, we change, and as we change and mature, we learn. My views on a range of subjects have evolved over my lifetime. Some issues i am passionate about: race and gender equality being one. But i wasn’t always. I probably never even thought about it until i was twenty, and i certainly didn’t do anything about it till i was gone thirty. Now I work and write in this field, but my views are current, based upon all the learning and experience i’ve had up until now.

Whilst we may want to hold onto the notion that our politicians are perfect, that we should demonise them for every mistake, however small, however long ago, if we want to start engaging younger people in political roles, if we feel that there is value in ventures like this, to involve younger people in decision making and the processes of democracy, then we have to take them, warts and all. In no way does this view condone any anti social views: racism or homophobia are wrong, and we should stand up for what’s right, but people getting drunk, breaking windows, making dreadfully inappropriate relationship decisions and writing about things they know nothing about with great passion and misguided direction: that’s called growing up. It’s always easy to judge in retrospect.

The technology may allow us to build and view the legacy of these things, but we need to take them in perspective. Just because things can last forever doesn’t mean they should be used forever. I do not know what Paris Brown said when she was fifteen. I am not particularly interested in what she said or did then: she was a fifteen year old girl and i’m not particularly interested in any of the things that teenagers do. I certainly don’t ask people when i interview them for a job. I am interested in who she is now and why we, as a society, decided to judge her on what she did rather than what she is doing. Why we failed to recognise that people change, that they grow up, that they learn.

The legacy and persistence of social media will continue to haunt us: the only thing we know for sure is that people are adaptable, people do change. Even people who hold abhorrent views can come to see the light, can change and learn. If we don’t give people space to grow, what kind of society will we live in? If we can’t make mistakes and learn from them, how will we grow?

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Age, Authority, Brand, Culture, Disclosure, Diversity, Equality, Experience, Facebook, Freedom, Information, Integrity, Leadership, Learning, Learning Culture, Legacy, Mistakes, News, Personal Brand, Social Learning, Social Media, Tone of Voice, Truth, Twitter, Understanding and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Social legacy: Paris Brown and the right to learn

  1. Hey Julian, just finished the book last week! Very Intruiging post BTW. There is this unability thusfar to let go of past comments and posts. I see this too. It’s actually getting worse. Companies more oftenly rely on social media intel to look into applicants and employees. So a bingedrinking photo from way back when could still really hurt future opportunities and ventures. Paris Browns case is perfect in this sense.

    I see two different directions I predict this will develop.

    Now there is still a large audience that remains relatively passive because of these fears. and it’s already present in our national consciousness and discourse ( Especially also with more and more talk about cyberterrorism, facebook’s privacy issues becoming to the forefront of the news, The dutch debate over cookies etc. I think that some new social media or adaptations of old ones will at some point give users more control for the amount of time things remain posted and also feature this more prominently as a positive. When more of our personal lives goes online we will demand more space to control it as well (something that is not really happening yet, we’ll probably get bigger scandals than Paris Browns case to get to that point) Commercially it’s interesting enough, because breaking the wall between active commentators and passive readers might further be broken down and will enhance immersion and engagement (like you mentioned previously)

    On the other hand I do see a shift with the youngest generations where the meaning and very definition of ‘privacy’ is changing and is already vastly different from the definition from older generations. At some point so much data will be posted and put online that it will harder to keep track of it all for employers and If every brainfart gets posted online then the meaning and definition of posting itself becomes broader and more generic. This generation will care less for the cultural significance of posts then the ones before and that will eventually trickle down. (mostly to the ones in more traditional media like tv)

    As the walls between professional and private life will slowly break down further, the very meaning of ‘professional’ will also be reiterated. It can no longer remain this seperate facet within ones identity. It will become more amerced with other sides of the self (still definitely not within every industry though).

    Lastly I think Wikileaks and Anonymous within this discussion would make very interesting case studies, because it reveals the distribution of power when it comes to privacy and how even the bigger institutions (states, multinationals) are not necessarily safe anymore from keeping the skeletons in the closet. And even more intruiging: how do we envision the rights of these institutions to learn? What consequences can be considered as learning and which not?

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