There are two thoughts about the recent furore surrounding young Paris Brown’s appointment, Twitter fiasco and embarrassing resignation as Youth Crime Commissioner.
The first is a lesson about the recruitment process. Stating the obvious, it pays to ensure there is a thorough assessment and selection of candidates for vacancies, particularly for high profile jobs. One would think that a quick check on her previous online form would have been a sensible precaution for a high-profile role relating to policing. Even though Ms Brown was only 15 at the time of the posts and they therefore pre-dated that appointment, a series of expressly racist, sex/violence and drug-related messages would surely have raised eyebrows among the selectors. Instead their own credibility is now as dented as Ms Brown’s.
However, coupled with the point about thorough checks during recruitment is the reality that young people are now subjected to a less forgiving online world as part of their development and growth to maturity because some of their mistakes, rants and bumpy journey towards maturity are captured on social media for all to find and judge. Is it wise to recruit on such a basis?
My main concern is that teenagers have always been genetically prone to expressing immature, thoughtless and exploratory ideas or expressions of ‘bravado’, but in my day (not Hovis commercial, more Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes!) these were not recorded for the wider world to view and judge at some future point, particularly when searching for a job. But does that mean that immature teenage angst reduced to written form cannot found the basis for recruitment decisions? Is there not an argument that with great power (the ability to tell a substantial audience what’s on your mind without leaving your bedroom) comes great responsibility (the obligation not to offend or insult others without good reason, and the obligation to oneself not to come across as a racist, sex-obsessed drunk with a drugs issue at age 15)? And if such things should be disregarded at 15, what about 16 or 17? Can we really say that there is some sort of age watershed before which it does not matter how stupid or offensive one’s social media bulletins are? And we have to bear in mind the lapse in time between the post and the recruitment. As and when we get to the generation which can both have made inappropriate posts at 15 and be looking for a job at 30, it must be right that the former should not usually impact the latter. But if the post is at 15 and the job is at 17, the time lag is simply not great enough that any employer could say with confidence that the distasteful sentiments put online were no longer relevant.
It is unrealistic to expect children and young people to be perfect angels, especially your own, and no one should expect normal 15 year olds to be tweeting about fine art, philosophy and the deteriorating situation in North Korea. But would you really want Ms Brown to be your youth ambassador? All very easy to be wise after the event for someone whose social media skills at age 15 were limited to moody stares at school discos, you might say. True, but particularly for anything to do with policing, surely such things are not only potentially relevant but so obviously so that it is the appointing committee who should take the flak, not the hapless Ms Brown.