Back in 2012 I wrote about the effect that your digital footprint will have on your future social standing and five years later we are still hearing about how 'celebrities' are being hauled over the coals for their digital past. I've noticed a trend for this activity when they appear on a mainstream reality tv show and viewers and/or journalists take it upon themselves to trawl through their tweets from years gone by to expose any racist, political, misogynistic or otherwise non-PC language used in their online history. I suppose you could categorise this as 'trolling'... but do we have a right to know how these role models have shaped themselves or should the past be left in the past?
This type of exposure is not exclusive to, but is more prevalent with, new media stars; the likes of YouTube celebrities with their millions of tween and teen followers. The ones that have grown up with social media literally at their finger tips. Many of them not even knowing a time without "The Internet" and an online career seeming to be a natural progression from experimenting with blogging and vlogging.
The two examples I'm going to use are Zoe Sugg and Jack Maynard.
Unless you are 14 years old, or have an obsession with digital media
like me, Jack Maynard was a bit of an unknown entity as a 2017 I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here camp mate and when it was announced that he had over one million followers across his social media channels, people wanted to know who he was.
Three days in the jungle was enough time for his Twitter account to be finely combed and tweets with inappropriate language from five years ago sent to a tabloid newspaper. Because he wasn't able to respond immediately to the claims, he had to agree to be removed from the show to issue an apology and explain his actions. Since then it has also been reported that he may have sent inappropriate messages to a young female fan - a fine line to walk and something that is under investigation at the time of writing.
Ms Sugg (aka Zoella) has been both championed as a unofficial spokesperson for mental health issues but also berated for not being completely truthful about her full involvement with products produced using her name/brand, such as her first book, ironically named 'Girl Online'.
Most recently, she was highlighted again in the mainstream media for having a advent calendar - with only 12 doors (!) - priced at at £50, which she seemed happy to pimp out across her social media network and the much criticised YouTube event, Hello World Live. That was until the contents of the calendar were exposed as being... well, basically tat that you can buy elsewhere and not worth anywhere in the region of £50. A less than sincere apology was quickly created and shared and fellow YouTubers stood by her side.
But that's like a red rag to a bull in this day and age. Trolls want more than blood - they want digital suicide and they go all out to find the public messages that may set the ball rolling! Zoe was no exception with tweets from six years ago being reshared across the Twitter platform and beyond.
I suppose what this has done has made other celebrities examine their own past (digital and elsewhere) and given them the opportunity to make themselves accountable for their actions. Read this series of tweets from grime and hip hop artist, Stormzy:
I said some foul and offensive things whilst tweeting years ago at a time when I was young and proudly ignorant. Very hurtful and discriminative views that I’ve unlearned as I’ve grown up and become a man..
The comments I made were unacceptable and disgusting, full stop. Comments that I regret and to everyone I’ve offended, I am sorry, these are attitudes I’ve left in the past. The homophobic language I used was, embarrassingly, a part of my vocabulary when I was younger and...
ignorance made me feel comfortable to use them whilst not understanding the hate and the ramifications they carry. That isn’t an excuse, I take responsibility for my mistakes and hope you can understand that my younger self doesn’t reflect who I am today.
Again, I’m sorry to everyone I’ve offended. To the LGBQT community and my supporters and friends, my deepest apologies 🙏🏿
In no way does his apology change his past opinions but it does show that he is taking responsibility for his previous online activity and language and making positive changes to become a better person. It's a step in the right direction.
My friend Claire and I had a bit of a conversation last night (on Twitter, funnily enough) about freedom of speech. We were taking about using certain people for ratings or to bring a new audience to an old show and how Katie Hopkins had never been removed from reality shows for her social opinions but I don't agree that it can be boxed off in the same way.
For me, it's about ownership of your words and being responsible for what you put out on a digital platform regardless of who you are. Katie Hopkins has placed herself firmly on the social commentary ladder and doesn't give two fucks about anyone or anything. She'll argue black is white if she believes it to be so and this is her right, regardless of whether I think it's befitting.
I have less influence than someone like Zoe, Jack or Stormzy but there are still people reading my content and reacting to it. I'm not here to change the world - I hope I make my friends and readers think a little differently, or even get them to challenge my opinions - but I won't put anything online that I don't believe in or that I won't be able to justify in the future, and I'm very careful about what language I use. The three examples I have used today all have a young and influential audience who hang onto every word they say and it MATTERS that they take on board that responsibility and not treat it as disposable media, forgotten as soon as it has scrolled past.
And finally, a message to reality show producers... employ a troll to dissect the social media accounts of your next batch of 'celebrities'. I'm tired of all the controversy and media fall-out taking the spotlight away from what we are supposed to be enjoying, whether that be someone wimping out of a jungle trial, having a breakdown in a controlled household full of cameras or singing for their supper on whatever music programme is currently ringing in our ears.