Paris Brown is the 17 year old working with Kent Police on youth liaison as Britain's first young police and crime commissioner. The Mail on Sunday looked through her Twitter account, going back three years, and found some offensive comments. Teenagers can be susceptible to tweeting or posting things online that they may later regret. Paris Brown had tweeted about her local pizza delivery firm, saying they needed to learn to speak English. She had used the word "fags" talking about people on television, referred to "pikeys", said she fancied making hash brownies and expressed a desire to want to "cut everyone around me". Whether this makes her unfit for her new job is a subject for debate in itself, but the case certainly goes to show that it pays to consider your digital footprint when you post comments online.
Officials hadn't checked Paris' social media profile prior to her appointment, but there are probably many 17-year-olds who have social media profiles that are not 100% blemish free. Paris has tearfully said that she "doesn't want to be judged on Tweets that were written a long time ago. They are stupid tweets but they should not affect my future career." But, like it or not, these things are likely to come back to haunt you.
The case illustrates the huge implications of social media and the tendency for it to be used to publish throwaway comments to a large and unknown audience. For young people, the temptation to use it to to vent, show off, try to attract attention or be funny is almost impossible to resist. That is why it is more crucial than ever that from an early age children are given the skills to navigate these uncharted waters, and to make sensible decisions about how to use social media via e-safety education.
The Paris Brown case provides an excellent opportunity to discuss digital footprints with students. Ask them to read about the case online, then explore the following questions:
- How many of them have written something online that could be offensive?
- Do they think that Paris Brown is guilty of being racist and homophobic?
- Why would someone write something like the comments Paris tweeted?
- What tips would they give to other students as ways of preventing situations like this?
- Which websites are most likely to cause the most damage when you post comments online?
- How easy is it to remove or delete comments that you have tweeted, or posted online?
- What are the key lessons that we can learn from Paris Brown's situation?