Ancient Banter or Punishable Wrongdoing? The Rise of Online Recklessness

Your social media history coming back to haunt you is a scenario that for most of everyday society renders only limited embarrassment. Laura Hanton looks into when the stars of today experience social media embarrassment that ends up on a much larger scale than their younger selves ever thought possible.

Recent entertainment news has been peppered with stories about the latest celebrity whose age-old tweets have been resurrected, and they are far from PC. Who is dredging up these historical comments remains to be known, but the trend is having huge effects on the public face of stars like Zoella and Stormzy, and raising a storm of debate around the permanency and privacy of social media.

The most recent subject in question is that of Jack Maynard. The YouTube-famous vlogger lasted a mere few days on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here before his representatives summoned him home from the jungle, apparently in order to defend himself in the wake of a media frenzy. Emerging tweets from 2012 had ignited allegations against Maynard over claims of ‘racism and homophobia’, and were made public in The Sun.

“Should Maynard be being punished for something posted half a decade ago?”

It goes without saying that insulting or offensive remarks are never acceptable, but looking at these tweets, you wouldn’t be blamed for imagining an immature teenager bantering with his friends, using  language that – although we hate to admit it – was incredibly commonplace at the time. So should Maynard be being punished for something posted half a decade ago, when he was years away from being in the public eye, and which very likely was (and is) completely unreflective of his beliefs?

It begs the question of whether, in this age, where the internet makes everything ever said retrievable and immortal, we are entitled to a second chance; a clean slate.

“Is the internet not also giving kids a free reign, a medium to say whatever they want without consequences or future implications?”

It was once proposed that every individual would have the opportunity to erase their online presence from before they turned eighteen, as part of a campaign to make the internet safer for young people. On the one hand, it makes sense: removing all trace of a child’s/adolescent’s presence online would make them less vulnerable to abuse or exploitation, and eliminates the possibility of mortifying selfies emerging several years later. But, is the internet not also giving kids a free reign, a medium to say whatever they want without consequences or future implications?

Furthermore, embarrassing photos and cruel language are different ends of the spectrum: in Maynard’s case, it wouldn’t reflect at all well on ITV if they were being seen to endorse, or even turn a blind eye to, these kind of racial slurs. And Maynard himself seems to agree with the case against him. He responded to his withdrawal from ‘I’m A Celeb’ with a video addressing his fans, speaking of immaturity and warning others to be careful about what they post online. Yet again he was slated by the press, with complaints that flashing a £10,000 watch in an apology video rendered it insincere. Inappropriate, yes – perhaps even careless – but is the whole palaver really unforgivable?

It’s getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves, who hasn’t been a fool on social media? The likes of Maynard, Stormzy and Zoella are under fire because they are in the public eye, yet their controversial tweets aren’t from yesterday, or last week or last month (if they were, that would be a different story altogether). They are from years ago, from long before they were the influential figures they are today. If we can’t forgive a burst of online recklessness, what kind of society are we going to become?

Laura Hanton


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Featured image courtesy of ‘Sean MacEntee’ via Flickr. Image licence found here.


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