Paris in flames

Summary

As the media firestorm consumes former Kent Youth Police and Crime Commissioner Paris Brown, what sort of signals does this send for young people’s social media histories and future engagement in politics?

The news broke recently. This blogpost stems from the previous one here. Personally I thought she was going to see the whole thing out. Unacceptable and out of order those tweets were, my issue was the appropriateness and the proportionality of the response that followed. The media monstering that followed was neither appropriate nor proportionate. Again, it’s as if Leveson had never happened.

“Yeah but Pooffles, all young people are hoodie teen thugs that scare people from going outside!!!”

If you believe the papers, that is. I don’t believe for a second that all young people are like how the media portrays them negatively. I don’t for a second believe that even the majority of young people are like that. Yes, there will always be a minority of young people that behave like violent scuzzballs, but let’s not pretend that adults are any different. You only have to look at the convictions for violent offences to tell you that.

Should she or shouldn’t have she resigned?

The only compelling reason for a resignation is that she had lost the confidence of a significant sub-group of those that she was appointed to represent. Young people from minority ethnic backgrounds, young people of non-heterosexual orientations, young people who had suffered from being victims of violent crime – all would have had good reason to call for a resignation.

My issue though is whether the model of an appointed youth commissioner was the right one for a police and crime commissioner. To which my view is that it isn’t suitable. Not because of what Ms Brown did or said, but because here is an opportunity to get lots of people involved rather than just one or two people each year.

Youth Parliaments

There is already an elected structure (however imperfect) for ‘adult’ institutions to engage with – it’s called the UK Youth Parliament. In the case of Kent, it already has a number of MYPs. Why not use them as that sounding board for youth issues, and have that formal role as being one to incentivise young people to get involved in local issues? Far better for the £15,000 annual salary allocated to the Youth PCC to be spread across the representatives of the youth panel, with the expectation that panel members will be proactive in getting out and about in their communities, schools and colleges.

Signals to school children: Is school a safe haven from the media?

This is the first time I can think of where the tweets someone posted during their school days has forced them out of a job due to said posts being splashed all over one of the biggest selling newspapers in the country. There are two things that follow from this:

Bullying

Schools and colleges are really going to have to get a grip on bullying. I’m not going to distinguish between offline and online here because for many children, the line is so blurred as to be non-existent. Social media is part of normal life. Children born in the year 2000 are now in their teens. For them, they cannot conceive of life without the internet.

Can’t imagine what it’s like living a life where you cannot appreciate the difference between internet and no internet? It’s a bit like us trying to imagine what life was like without the automobile or the telephone. It’s just always been there as far as we are concerned. The few glimpses into the past I got from my childhood were from my late grandparents who lived and worked all over the world. Every Christmas they would be bombarded with Christmas cards from all over the place. Yes, Christmas cards of kangaroos and koalas wearing santa hats while sitting on the beach drinking cocktails. Aerogrammes (do you know what one of those is?) were the norm for communication – phone bills for international calls were prohibitively expensive until quite recently.

Big Brother is watching you

“Well we were going to consider you for this job but given that you posted this outrageous tweet when you were 15, I’m afraid we’re going to have to decline your application on this occasion.”

You could say Ms Brown’s mistake was that she got caught. She didn’t lock down her account and/or did not delete the account in time. Should the Police Commissioner have vetted the shortlist of candidates on their social media postings? Should she have said: “If you have things on your existing social media accounts, delete said accounts now and start again”?

Things are still up in the air because both the law and social conventions within various parts of society have either not caught up with social media, and/or some social media users have evolved norms of behaviour where both the law and existing social conventions are completely absent. This could be from libel law & contempt of court on one side – all those people retweeting names and allegations in contravention of a court order, to trolling and generally being abusive. The process of trying to reconcile all of this is going to be long and difficult.

Why bother engaging with politics if all that will happen is media monstering?

Are we really saying that the only people who can take part in the political process are those that were squeaky clean throughout school? Did any careers tutor say to you that (apart from law-breaking), anything that you say or do in school will result in you being sacked from a job in the future?

I’ve lost count of the number of people who have basically said they are not going to get involved in politics or stand for public office because they won’t be able to take the media monstering that seems to come with the territory. Hence the people with the skills and talents that modern day politics is crying out for are being lost because people are understandably afraid to confront the media monsters. This in part was what Leveson was trying to address. If you are an ordinary member of the public – and a teenager at that, chances are you simply won’t have the knowledge, resilience or the connections to face down a media onslaught. Few adults do. I couldn’t if that happened to me. My mental health would implode. I know that.

What does this mean in terms of how we as individuals and as a society handle and judge bad behaviour?

It’s a very real issue.

Yeah, OK, Ms Brown has now resigned. Now what? Do we as a society wash our hands of her and move onto the next victim? What of Ms Brown? What I mean is: How is she to come back from this, and what role do we as a society have to help her in this? She’s been caught out doing bad stuff, she’s now apologised, now what?

Well actually, the questions that follow – ones that cannot be answered instantly are: What have you learned from this experience? What will you do differently as a result? How have you changed (and even matured) as a person as a result? Because in Ms Brown’s case, isn’t that what we want? Someone who comes out of this firestorm far stronger than when she went in? Don’t we want a mature young lady who now knows how what she posted offended people to know not to do it again? Don’t we want a mature young lady to have changed her personal values so that she doesn’t do such things again not because she fears a media monstering again, but because they go against her new personal values?

That goes for all of us when we do bad stuff – whether consciously or unconsciously. How many times have we all said or done things that were bad but that we simply were not aware how and why they were problematic for others? Being called out on this stuff is in part how we improve as people. It can be a messy and painful process at times, but then so is life. What matters is how we help each other deal with this sort of stuff and what sort of person emerges from it. Abstract theoretical concept that some might not like, but we call it rehabilitation. We can’t send everyone to live in prison camps can we? That way we really would end up in a police state where society was the prison. There are enough countries that are like that without us needing to add to them.

Again, I repeat I’m not condoning what Ms Brown posted. It was offensive and out of order. She shouldn’t have done it. What I am questioning is the proportionality and the appropriateness of the responses – and the wider impact of these.

Finally, as I said earlier, I don’t think the model of having a single appointee to represent ‘the youth’ is the best model. Far better to make use of existing structures than to put in place a new one. That way, the existing structures can be used to engage people with politics and with issues in their areas – and possibly help deal with some of the problems with political apathy.

(*Wingtip*) To Vince Maple for tipping Puffles off about Kent’s youth parliament reps

This entry was posted in Party politics, Public administration & policy, Social media. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Paris in flames

  1. Interesting stuff, and couldn’t agree more in terms of existing structures. Tal Michael, who ran for the post of North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner but wasn’t appointed, has also blogged about an alternative approach that he would have taken in Wales, which works on a similar basis to what you’ve suggested – http://talmichael.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/appointing-a-youth-commissioner-compounds-the-flaws-in-having-elected-police-crime-commissioner/.

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