The UK’s first youth crime commissioner resigned from her £15,000-a-year post last Tuesday following a series of controversial tweets. 17-year-old Paris Brown issued a public apology expressing her deep regret regarding her “inappropriate language and views”. Among some of Brown’s choice comments was an admission that she really wanted to make “a batch of hash brownies”, had “a thing for older men” and had turned up to work drunk: “Been drinking since half one and riding baby walkers down the hall at work oh my god I have the best job ever haha!!”.
Perhaps it is too much to ask a 17-year-old girl to have prospectively censored herself in a forum that for her, and at that time, was simply a means to communicate informally with her peers. Should an individual be judged on throwaway, albeit offensive comments, buried deep in their social media past? Brown has been called a racist, homophobic and a condoner of drug-taking and binge-drinking based on the tweets that have been unearthed from her Twitter account. Brown’s remarks are undeniably offensive, but are more indications of a typical teenage “bravado” than any deep-seated anti-gay or racist ideologies. Should the youthful “banter” of any of today’s most prominent political figures have been recorded and held up to media scrutiny, then we would be hard pressed to find any “suitable” candidate to hold public office.
Ann Barnes, Kent’s police and crime commissioner, and the pioneer of the youth commissioner initiative, employed Brown from a pool of 164 applicants as an individual who could help the police reconnect with youth culture, informing police on the most effective means to target youth crime through a greater understanding and sensitivity to the issues that most impact this demographic. Surely Brown’s comments are in keeping with the very ethos of Barnes’ project – take a real person, intimately tied up with the impulsivities and reckless bravado of youth culture, and use this authenticity to target the problems. Ann Barnes admitted that she “was not recruiting an angel, and was not recruiting a police officer” but was “recruiting a young person, warts and all.”
However, the uniquely “recorded” nature of social media – a phenomenon that has never before caused so many to heel to their past flippancies – has now blurred the boundaries between public and private character. Brown should have probably known better, but then again, would she ever have anticipated taking on the role as the first ever youth crime commissioner? Arguably, both Twitter and the role undertaken by Brown are unprecedented products of a more technologically connected society and a more socially disconnected youth. Brown had, in effect, “published” her controversial and obviously insincere remarks, yet the irreversible nature of these social networking sites are not obvious and at no point in subscribing to Facebook or Twitter are you explicitly reminded that a future career may be compromised.
David Cameron was bedevilled by media reports of his Etonian-marijuana-smoking “incident” back in 2007, Bill Clinton was practically driven out of office after a blowjob and, in 2010, William Hague had to answer to media reports of him sharing a hotel bedroom with his male aide rather than his wife. Constantly the personal is used to criticise the professional and, indeed, sometimes the former can impair the conduct of the latter, but this is not so in Brown’s case who would very probably have made an excellent youth crime commissioner had she stayed on. Except now Ann Barnes will be looking for a new blemish-free youngster to take the post – one without a past.