Tag Archives: Twitter

The rise and fall of Paris Brown IRL (In Real Life)

Paris Brown, 17 years old, and in many respects a typical teenager. She gave an engaging performance on BBC Breakfast recently as she was unveiled as the country’s first Youth Police and Crime Commissioner. However, the maelstrom which engulfed the unfortunate Paris following this announcement captures well the challenges of growing up in today’s world.

Paris Brown IRL

Paris Brown

Unfortunately for Paris she had committed what appears to be the ultimate sin in our digital age. She had shared with Twitter, when younger, thoughts which were very stupid and for which she was lambasted by the national media and an assorted group of people in public life quick to admonish the teenager. Keith Vaz, no less, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, demanded she stepped down from her post instantly.

Not for a moment do I condone Paris’s Tweets, however, as someone who has observed teenagers in a school setting, dare I say that they can be very, very stupid. The benefit of a school community is that mistakes can be made. And the average teenager will make mistakes. The key is that they learn from it and move on.

The contrition expressed by Paris appeared genuine to me and if she had made her comments in the real world she rightly would have been strongly chastised. To make racist or homophobic comments is unacceptable – end of. Sadly for Paris, Tweets posted when she was younger were deemed to have defined her and were ergo unforgivable.

Is it the unintended consequence of the social media age that the previously ephemeral mistakes of the teenage years, the careless or thoughtless comments which would not bear scrutiny in the adult world, are now indelibly stamped on an individual’s identity forever? If this is indeed the case, we have reached a watershed moment. It is not only the young who need to learn a lesson from the tragic rise and fall of Paris Brown. So too do those of us who did not grow up with social media. It is difficult for me to appreciate the lure of the virtual world which is all too real to young people. Whether it is Twitter or Facebook, their digital life is as important as their life in the real world. Their engagement is total and self-censorship minimal.

In school, we see this played out in the youngsters’ everyday lives. Bad behaviour which in the past was the preserve of the school playground has migrated to the digital world where it takes on a new power. Schools are required now to have a policy on cyberbullying which is designed to address a digital version of sadly predictable behaviour, aimed to support the victim. Yet it is arguable that the perpetrator is creating a digital footprint which could well come back to haunt them in their adult life.

As employers and universities increasingly trawl the web for an insight into the virtual world of individuals, it strikes me that we need to take a view on a life lived in a digital age.

I think we can take it as a given that a typical teenager will at some point post something on social media which is regrettable. Surely in the adult world we should be capable of taking account of context. The uncensored thoughts of someone when growing up may or may not reveal the best about that individual. But given the journey of life, we must allow for maturity and life experiences to act upon and more than likely change an individual’s character.

So let us use the cautionary tale of Paris Brown as a sanity check. For sure, schools are doing their bit to educate young people about the pitfalls of the digital world and the notion of a digital footprint. Yet, youngsters will nonetheless make mistakes which is part of growing up. It behoves adults to understand this – by doing so we are demonstrating a proper understanding of the digital age.

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Tweachers global voice


I read a surreal Twitter exchange recently between an astronaut and William Shatner, the erstwhile Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame.  The actor queried whether Commander Hadfield was tweeting from space.  His response?  “Yes, standard orbit Captain.  And we are detecting signs of life on earth.”  This convergence of science fiction and science fact is serendipitous. But it also points to a greater issue. The world imagined in the past is increasingly becoming aligned to the world we live in today.  The canny observation “be careful what you wish for” has never been so pertinent.

So how does today’s world shape up to the imagination of the last century? The showcase TV programme which reported on innovation in my younger years was “Tomorrow’s World”. The cool theme music and urbane Raymond Baxter heralded a range of ideas which challenged our perception of the possible.  One of the show’s presenters was Maggie Philbin who in later life shared her reflections on the many and varied inventions demonstrated on ‘Tomorrow’s World’:

”I would love to say I recognised their significance immediately but often the technology was fragile or incomplete – a mixture of space age and Stone Age – and the real potential was hidden… During my years on the show I saw the mobile phone downsize from one you could fit in a suitcase to one you could carry on your own but which cost £3,000. I remember BT lending me one for a weekend, so I would get the hang of it. I had given the number to my husband, who rang me while I was on the train home. I like to think I was the first person to say: “I’m on a train!” The whole carriage stared and shared my excitement that it was indeed possible to make a call on the 18.35 out of Paddington…”

Ms Philbin’s point about not necessarily identifying the transformational technology is as relevant today as it was then.  It is now a truism that digital technology is transforming our lives in quite fundamental ways.  The virtual world is as prevalent in our lives as the real, raising all kinds of issues we had never anticipated.  This is arguably the greatest challenge for educators today.

Illustrative of this is social media. Let me take Twitter.  For many, Twitter is a self-absorbed platform for individuals who want to share their every waking hour with “followers” foolish enough to take an interest in them.  I thought that too.  However, it is clear that something quite extraordinary has happened over the last year in the world of education.  Recently the Times Educational Supplement ran a piece on the rise of the educational ‘tweeter’ during 2012 (or tweachers!). Across the globe Twitter connects a broad spectrum of people who are united in their interest in learning.  And Twitter is very democratic.  It matters little if you are a senior member of staff or a professor in a university; what matters is that you have something to contribute to the on-going debate about the future of education in our different schools, in our different countries.

Certainly for me, Twitter has opened a window to a fantastic world of ideas and thinking which I find stimulating and challenging.  Indeed at times dialogue between tweeters can take on a Socratic quality.  Which is really the point.  Far from “dumbing down” our thinking, Twitter has provided a vehicle for promoting genuine and meaningful debate across continents.  And who would ever have anticipated this back in 2006 when the world of Twitter was born?