Where to start with what is wrong with the 14-year-Dutch-old girl who tweeted American Airlines with a fake terrorism threat? What isn't wrong with it would be an easier list to compile. There's the ignorance, the utter lack of respect for both employees of the airline and it's passengers, the racism compounded, ruinously, by her backtracking tweet pleading she was 'a white girl' and not from Afghanistan. Yet perhaps most disturbing of all to my mind was the aggressive reaction of Dutch authorities (they arrested her yesterday) to what was in reality a harmless and entirely predictable event.
The girl tweeted. She typed 140 characters - and while it's true battles have been lost and careers destroyed in so many characters, the day we lose sight what a tweet actually consists of is a sad and scary one indeed. Arguably it has already past. It's a year almost to the day that Kent Police's youth commissioner, Paris Brown, was forced to resign over offensive tweets she'd posted between the ages of 14 and 15, despite her being 17 by that point and recruited, arguably, for the very sense of kid-on-the-block-ness she displayed. Asking grown adults to tweet responsibly is hard enough (as Rupert Murdoch demonstrates almost daily - his latest is also to do with a plane and terrorism, funnily enough, and is no less inflammatory than our young Dutch girl's) but penalising children for making naive comments on Twitter is as fruitless as banning them entirely, given how naturally naivety and indeed, these days, tweeting, comes to most.
My brother is 20, and barely six years have passed since he found it amusing to allude loudly to the bomb in his suitcase while queuing at check in. While admittedly not in league with Paris Brown's racism and homophobia, it's not hard to see the parallels between the recent tweets of the Dutch teenager, and his giggling remarks six years ago. Both were a bit insensitive, both were innocently made; yet whereas my brother had an audience of about ten people, all in the immediate vicinity, the twitterer had millions of viewers globally. In other words, the source was more or less identical - it was the medium that made the difference between his being reprimanded by my father, and her being arrested by the Dutch police.
Adults invented these platforms. Adults gave, and continue to give, children access to them. But children are children, whether on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat or that rare thing, real life. Allowing them an audience of millions is shortsighted on our part - after all, the advantage of saying something that daft out loud, at an airport, is that you'll witness the effects of your remarks in your fellow passengers and crew. Twitter distances, and seems to sanitises stupidity. By all means give her a dressing down, on Twitter or otherwise, but don't for heavens sake arrest her for being a kid.