THE BLOG

Twitter Does Not Make Twits - It Just Shows Them Up

17/04/2013 17:30 BST | Updated 17/06/2013 10:12 BST

I love Twitter. I love the sense of community, the open discussions, its fundamental honesty, and its capacity for change. I love the way it brings people together, and keeps old friends in touch. I love its simplicity, and I love the way the 140-character limit irritates everyone except the succinct.

From the moment I became @DaleBilson, Twitter's steadily updated stream of 140-character thoughts, ditties and musings became my digital home. The sort of home you feel entirely comfortable in.

Comfortable enough to lounge around, comparing the merits of Justin Bieber's tattoos versus those of Harry Styles. Or dance in your pants to Wannabe, rapping 'zigazig-ahhh' with real vigour. Or discuss the meaning of life, or the existence of the Higgs-Boson, and whether the two are connected. All on a Tuesday morning, before breakfast.

In my real home, I am pleased to have the freedom and self-confidence to do all of these things. Mostly, however, they happen when I am home alone, or drunk. Or, in dark times, both.

There really is no place like home. But there is one crucial difference between my real home and my virtual one: my virtual home is shared with around 500 million people.

The front door is left open for anyone who wants to wander in and pass judgement. Your antics are recorded for posterity, so not only are your housemates able to watch your Spice Girls dance, but anyone who will ever know you could see it, too. Your beliefs, views, and actions are broadcast not just to those closest to you, but potentially to colleagues, strangers and even the police.

This has become all too clear to Paris Brown, whose appointment as Britain's first £15,000-a-year youth crime commissioner lasted only as long as it took a journalist to scroll to the bottom of her Twitter feed. Described by Ann Barnes, the police and crime commissioner for Kent, as "an extraordinary young person", young Brown had published tweets which even the most generous observer must have winced at.

Following her resignation and apology, discussion has focussed on whether sufficient efforts have been made to educate young people on the dangers of sharing their most controversial views with the Twittersphere. But I think this misses the point.

Because choosing not to tweet these thoughts might have saved Ms Brown a tearful press conference and a media storm, but it wouldn't have stopped her having these thoughts in the first place. And if Ms Brown is the best her generation had to offer, what else are young people saying, offline, that can be considered teenage japery, just so long as it doesn't make it onto the internet?

I can understand why self-censorship on Twitter is advocated by careers advisors and recruiters. And I even see some merit in the argument that the tweets of a 14-year-old are not entirely relevant to their adult life.

But I can also understand why journalists choose to mine the depths of public individuals' pasts online because, to me, it does help to illuminate their true character. If Paris Brown thought it appropriate to proffer divisive and insulting views in a public forum, then she is not a suitable role-model or public servant, at any level.

There is no difference between a person's online and offline lives. Education should focus on the effect of these abusive and offensive views in general, not whether they are shared online.

And if you're going to dance to the Spice Girls in your underpants, make sure you close the curtains.