Teenager escapes prosecution for ‘hate tweets’

Criminally offensive? Paris Brown apologised. Did her tweets merit a police investigation?

Police have decided to drop the case against the 17-year-old whose offensive tweets forced her to resign as the UK’s first youth police commissioner. Does Paris Brown deserve to be vilified?

Special branch officers visiting your home; the authorities confiscating your mobile phone; being taken to the local station for questioning, and television cameras filming you in tears after the media question your character. No one would choose this ordeal. But for Paris Brown, who had been appointed the UK’s first youth police and crime commissioner, these humiliations marked the end of the 17-year-old’s attempt to play a role in public life.

Yesterday the police force in Kent, which she had been chosen to advise on youth issues, announced it would not pursue a case against the teenager. But she has already become famous as the girl who posted remarks on Twitter derogatory and hostile to gay people and travellers, while boasting about drinking and taking drugs. The tweets were seen as inflammatory, and are now being reproduced widely with words blacked out, for fear of multiplying the offence taken by more than 50 members of the public who complained to Kent police.

At best Paris is now judged to be foolish, at worst guilty of passing on attitudes that encourage hatred. She has maintained that she is not homophobic or racist, but admits to displaying ‘bravado’ in her use of social media and was said to be ‘distraught’ at the idea she had caused offence.

Announcing her decision to stand down from the job as police advisor, which would have paid her £15,000 per year, Paris said the episode should serve as a lesson to other young people. The woman who placed her in the role said that Paris was ‘growing up fast’ and criticised members of the public for leaping in to condemn her.

And now the police themselves have dropped what the young woman’s lawyers called a ‘wholly disproportionate’ investigation.

Take me at my word

So can this young woman, who says she wanted to help improve relations between young people and the police in her area, be held responsible for those offensive tweets? One American professor argues that teenagers often have little understanding of what it means to turn a fleeting thought or emotional response into a social media post that remains permanently on view, and by which their character can be judged.

Looking back on her online indiscretions, some of which were committed when she was only 14, Paris appealed not to be condemned for ‘a few stupid things I wrote that I didn’t mean.’

Should we listen, and accept that teenagers now grow up with all their faults exposed online? Or is incitement to hatred, along with trivialising drink and drug abuse, so serious that any expression of these views should permanently rule a person out from holding a responsible position?

You Decide

  1. TheDaily Mailcondemned Paris Brown as a ‘foul-mouthed and self-obsessed teen.’ Is this a fair comment?
  2. Will this level of personal scrutiny put young people off getting involved in politics?

Activities

  1. Write about something you have done that might dissuade an employer from hiring you or and electorate from voting for you. It can be fact or fiction.
  2. Imagine you are appointed to advise your local police force on youth issues: draw up a list of suggestions.

Some People Say...

“The adult world needs to grow up a bit.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How can someone’s messages to friends get them in trouble?
That’s the problem: posting messages on social media sites is more like publishing than having a conversation. Thoughts and comments are written down, and especially on Twitter where anyone can follow you, you are broadcasting that statement. So what you write on these sites is, in legal terms, very far from a private conversation with friends.
Oh no!
Yes. Be aware that anyone can look at what you write on Twitter, and some people are prosecuted for what they post on social media: theofficial prosecutor for the UK has produced guidelines to clarify what might result in a criminal investigation. He has also advised that people swiftly deleting something that might be offensive could dodge prosecution.

Word Watch

Role in public life
Paris Brown was chosen to be Kent’s youth police and crime commissioner, with a salary of £15,000. She is to be replaced once the fallout from this scandal has been digested by the local force.
Hatred
Hate crimes include harassment, physical and verbal attacks on people because of their race, religion, sexuality, disability or even appearance (attacks on goths and emos are now recorded by some police forces). Incitement to hatred or incitement to violence of this kind is also a crime.
Official prosecutor
The Director of Public Prosecutions and his office, who are responsible for deciding whether there is enough evidence and a clear justification for bringing a prosecution, have been forced to issue guidance on what constitutes a Twitter crime, after several high profile controversies.

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