The one about the public sector crashing into the 21st century

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If you’ve been hiding under a rock this week you will have missed the news that the UK’s first Youth Crime Commissioner with Kent Police, 17 year old Paris Brown, stepped down from her position after less than a week because a few of her old tweets came to light. The tweets, some around three years old, were somehow brought to the attention of Kent Police and she chose to quit despite Kent Police asking her to stay. Ms Brown admits the tweets will have offended some people and adds that she had published them hastily or while just trying to act cool.

So, there are the top line facts. What do you think about this situation and how would you expect a colleague in the same position to respond? How would you expect your organisation to respond? What would you do if this happened to you? More importantly, do you think you or your organisation is equipped to deal with investigating or accepting the digital history of the incoming young workforce? Discuss.

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2 thoughts on “The one about the public sector crashing into the 21st century

  1. I don’t work in public sector so am unaware of the normal practices here. I work in Social Media, and run an online magazine for pre-teens, where we try to guide young people in using Social Media responsibly.

    In my opinion, those responsible failed on several levels.

    They did not check her Social Media profiles, which is an absolute must if you are going to put someone in front of the press. This wasn’t an oversight, that someone forgot to do it – they had no idea that they should do it. Ann Barnes stated, ‘Social networking sites are a no-go area for most of us adults’.

    This shows a complete lack of knowledge of the power of Social Media, and belies her real feelings. She obviously believes that proper, hard working adults don’t mess about on Twitter.

    I don’t work in the public sector, so I am unaware of the set up there, but surely she should have a PR or Social Media manager. Or at the very least, she needs to have a training session in the basics of Social Media.

    The world of Twitter isn’t for everyone, but public figures should have a basic understanding of how it works and who is using it.

    Due to their ignoring of Ms Brown’s Twitter feed, they failed to realise that this young woman held and had expressed views that were simply unacceptable. She may defend herself by saying that she was over egging the pudding, in an effort to appear cool, but this was a discussion that should have been held privately. There are many young people who would not dream of making such comments, and to say that it is ‘totally normal’ is rather misleading. If it is normal then we should be talking about it, and doing something against it.

    Finally, they put Ms Brown into a situation where she was criticised and ridiculed in the national press, failing to safeguard the minor in their care.

  2. The Police, to their credit, aren’t the problem here. This isn’t a silly old out-of-touch public sector fumbling with digital media and getting it wrong.

    A national newspaper – which has an interest in selling a narrative in which all young people are yobs and everyone involved in the public sector (except nurses) is inept or corrupt – has targeted one of the youngest, lowest paid employees of that police force.

    The fact that her previous online behaviour was offensive doesn’t excuse bullying. And that’s what this was – the application of enormous power against a person with none.

    The broader issue of whether a person *can* have a digital history is absurd. Everyone does.

    Can I suggest that “offensive” is the first step on a road that takes you directly to “off message”. If you *should* be removed from a post because of offensive tweeting in your past – *should* you be removed if you’ve tweeted, before becoming an employee, something that might damage the commercial interests of a company?

    Young Timmy McGuffin has a bad experience at McDougalls restaurant and tweets about it. Cut to 30 years later and he’s being considered for the post of CEO. Is that tweet supposed to influence the decision of the board making the appointment? What are the key factors? Time? Severity? Repeated behaviour?

    I would suggest that by seeking to only hear prepared messages, to only employ people without history, to only exist in a world without colour or conflict, we are fundamentally damaging our ability to interact with real people and deal with real problems.

    I want everyone working in social media for the police to be a teenager who once said something offensive. I can’t imagine why you’d want a young person who hadn’t done so in that role.

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