Claire Black: People older and wiser than Paris Brown have been caught out

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A week or so ago there was a major coffee spilling incident in my kitchen. Don’t worry, I know you can’t be expected to care whether I managed to divert the wayward torrent from my laptop (I did).

I only mention it because the reason that I hurled my beverage across the kitchen table was my panic to hit the off switch of the radio before I was subjected to an interview with the newly appointed youth crime commissioner for Kent Police, a 17-year-old called Paris Brown.

I couldn’t face listening to some hideous hybrid between a Britain’s Got Talent contestant and one of those scary youth politics androids, as opposed to someone as apathetic and monosyllabic as everyone has a right to be at the age of 17.

Occupied as I was with mopping up, in fact I found myself listening to a smart, articulate young woman speaking of her excitement at being a bridge between the police and young people in the area where she lived. She was down to earth, unflappable and seemed genuinely optimistic about her new job.

Alas, it didn’t work out. Instead, a handful of offensive tweets that Brown had sent between the ages of 14 and 16 were discovered by a newspaper – she had used homophobic and racist language as well as some dreadful spelling – and Brown resigned. She had lasted a week.

I’m not going to defend her tweets – how could I? Brown herself apologised unreservedly. But I do feel a bit nervous about the way in which she was despatched. Why didn’t the people who appointed her advise Brown to look at her social media profile to check if there was anything there that could present problems? I mean who amongst us didn’t do or say something as a teenager that we’d now find embarrassing or worse?

Ironically their lack of concern suggests that they were right to realise that they needed a young person to tell them about young people. After all, Brown is of a generation that spends huge amounts of time online. They photograph, tag, tweet, post and record more than any of us who had the good fortune to grow up before the internet could have imagined possible.

Social media blurs the line between private and public and plenty of people much older and supposedly wiser than Paris Brown have been caught out by that. Vilification is one answer but it’s no solution.

THE G8 has made a historic commitment to tackle sexual violence in conflict. That’s got to be good news, right? Yes. Only, I wish the coverage hadn’t made me feel a little conflicted myself. On the one hand, who wouldn’t welcome an initiative to limit the epidemic of sexual violence? On the other hand, who can look at Angelina Jolie standing alongside William Hague and not feel completely weirded out? Movie stars used to raise the profile of issues, now they sit in on the discussions. If you really think about it, that is a very odd thing.

I CAME across a new word this week: bikelash. It covers all those negative arguments spouted by people who don’t like cyclists – they ride on the pavements, they go through red lights, they are supercilious, they exist. But why? Bike lanes boost local businesses and they make pedestrians safer, more cyclists on the roads don’t increase accidents or get in the way of the flow of traffic. Come on haterz, give it up.

Twitter: @Scottiesays

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