Digital Baggage: Young And Old

Jenny Afia
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Digital Baggage: Young And Old

This was top academic Mary Beard’s take on journalist turned educationalist, Toby Young’s hasty departure from the universities regulator.

“By his Tweets shall ye know him”. This was top academic Mary Beard’s take on journalist turned educationalist, Toby Young’s hasty departure from the universities regulator. Accused of misogyny and homophobia for views expressed on Twitter, Young threw in his towel saying that his appointment “had become a distraction”.

Realising that ‘some’ of his online activity might not sit well with his new student focused responsibilities, he got busy. Around fifty thousand tweets now deleted. Apologies for those tweets? Many. Protestations against his critics? Plenty. Yet the internet, with its dangerously long memory, just keeps dredging up the bad stuff. Not wishing to dwell on the nasties here, and there were plenty of them, I’ll let you Google the specifics.

What this shows, of course, is that those past pithy, poisonous or ‘when we got p****d at our mates’ 18th’, posts and pics, can come back to haunt all of us, with serious consequences. The social media mistake is something we’ve probably all been guilty of . The tale of the youngster, whose first job offer is withdrawn because of dodgy teen Facebook pics, is now, almost an urban myth. But if an experienced 50 something, well-educated journalist can consciously make such a clanger, this does not bode well for our younger, often more vulnerable online users. Something I’ve flagged up regularly, in other posts.

What this also shows is how hard it is to delete historical digital footprints. So hard in fact that it seems extraordinary that the Government weren’t better prepared to address the situation.

Toby Young is, by no means the only professional to trip himself up in the Twitter sphere. Labour MP, Jared O’ Mara’s lewd and degrading comments about women got the Labour party, quite rightly, into a lather, and he was suspended. The posts appeared on a website years before they were rebooted in October 2017. Result? O’ Mara, AND his party’s reputation, tarnished, after one quick Google search. An inconsistency, not lost on journalists.

“(His comments are hard for) O’Mara to reconcile with a career in the party currently advertising a “transformative vision of a better Britain”. A good reputation means putting in the hours. If you’ve worked round the clock to build one, why would you neglect to have a social media policy to protect it? A thoughtless photo or comment can trip up even the most reputable organisations.

Other examples of employee Facebook faux pas include: one saying his work was a “shambles”, and another shaming and naming his boss, saying that he couldn’t “wait to leave, because it’s s**t”. Most businesses are big on the financial and commercial checks, when they’re negotiating; doing the ‘due diligence’ to within an inch of their corporate lives. But if, after blood, sweat and tears, you’d clinched that longed for contract, and this kind of social media slip up hit the news wires; it’s all off. Your deal’s on skid row.

If all you’ve ever done is like your mate’s cat video, then this may seem a little excessive. With hindsight, I expect Toby Young wishes he’d left it at cat likes too.