It has been reported that 17 year old Paris Brown has now resigned from her position. The’youth police commissioner’ in Kent has come under intense scrutiny following the discovery of offensive tweets after only 3 days in the job.
Initially it was thought that Paris Brown would remain in her post despite the now-deleted tweets about drinking, drugs and sex. The comments came under public scrutiny over the weekend when the Mail on Sunday published the tweets, which included derogatory terms such as ‘pikey’ and ‘fag’ and a reference to the baking of ‘hash brownies’. The comments were all made in 2011, before Ms Brown was appointed to her role .
The Kent Police Commissioner, Ann Barnes, defended her decision to retain Ms Brown in employment, with the £15,000 salary being taken in part from her own salary: “I suspect that many young people go through a phase during which they make silly, often offensive comments and show off on Facebook and Twitter.”
The decision came under fire from Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, who told the Mail on Sunday that he was “deeply shocked” and that he believed Brown should be removed, adding: “Public money should never be given to anyone who refers to violence, sex, drunkenness and other antisocial behaviour in this offensive manner.”
Mr Vaz’s comments appear to sit with the government’s own stance. Already this year, several civil servants have been dismissed and many more disciplined for breaches of internal social media policies.
Following complaints from the public and a number of politicians, Kent Police announced that they were conducting an investigation into Brown’s tweets and considering if any offences have been committed. This may still result in further criminal proceedings.
There is an important lesson here, not only for tweeting teenagers but also for employers who might find themselves presented with a growing number of examples of youthful ignorance – just one of the consequences of living an online life. As you would expect, the next generation of workers are more comfortable with chatting online and sharing their, sometimes controversial, interests, ideas, opinions and beliefs with the wider world.
High profile examples such as this should go some way in educating individuals using social media in their private lives and act as a deterrent from posting professionally embarassing tweets, message and updates.
But employers must also acknowledge, if not necessarily accept, that there may be details from an employee’s past which are inconsistent with the employer’s own ethos and values. As in the present case, Barnes recognised that part of Brown’s qualification was that she was “a typical teenager”. As the Police Commissioner, “you cannot condone any offensive tweets and I certainly would not accept anything like that now”. But it has been admitted that checks should have been carried out to check the teenager’s online footprint. Online checks and referencing will become increasingly common, especially for those in high profile, public facing or politically sensitive positions.
As we have seen before, any press or public ‘witch hunt‘ should be considered alongside a full and formal internal investigation before disciplinary or dismissal action is considered. It is the employer who will be accountable to the Employment Tribunals, not the journalists who research and break the stories.