No one is safe from the internet’s offence archaeologists
Ihave never been too troubled by ancient relics, my closest brush with one being meeting Time Team’s Tony Robinson a few years back. An area of excavation with which I am more familiar, however, is “offence archaeology” – having your digital footprint combed through by detractors in the hope of finding a petard on which to hoist you.
Sir Roger Scruton, the philosopher and recently appointed chairman of a new government housing commission, found himself on the receiving end of this phenomenon earlier this week after comments in which he allegedly damned rape victims, gay people, Jews and Muslims were unearthed online. Calls for his resignation abounded; he has refuted the claims, including in these pages, saying his words have been taken “out of context”.
Those words did not look good, certainly, and holding those in public positions to account is only right. The furore over Sir Roger is similar to one earlier this year surrounding the journalist Toby Young, who stepped down from a government higher education watchdog after “politically incorrect” tweets he had posted several years previously were used as kompromat. And while it is easy to dismiss these outcries as a victory for the permanently offended, and a sign that nobody should ever post anything online, the reality is far more challenging.
Thoughts once openly expressed, be that via speech, an article or a tweet, now live with us for ever. Yes, this is a heightened affliction among younger generations, but it is wrong to think that any of us are immune. The majority of the world – our worlds – are now online: digital diaries that exist permanently in the ether, ready to topple you at any moment should critics be willing to look hard enough.
The prospect of being expected to stand by everything you’ve ever said or done, whether five minutes or five decades ago, is terrifying.
How well could anyone fare if perpetually followed around by the words of their anguished teenage diaries, or views that at a particular moment in time were commonplace, but could now not be at greater odds with the public consensus?
Maybe we should see this virtual record as a blessing: a chance to course correct, and a yardstick with which to measure that progress is being made. That will not do, though, for offence archaeologists – a term coined by the conservative American blogger Freddie De Boer.
I found myself on the receiving end of such digital digging some years ago when, as an intern, I fell foul of a low-level actress and her online entourage. Having (inadvertently) offended her in an article, her fans began mining my Twitter account, locating a couple of posts I had sent as a student which mentioned drinking. Imagine! This was proof, they remonstrated, that I was untrustworthy. No matter that I was 19 when I had sent them, 21 when this particular fiasco ensued and that this was New York mid-hurricane Sandy, which meant walking 1.5 hours to get enough phone signal to even be made aware of the innocent blunder. For the diggers, after all, this is but sport. The online revolution didn’t dawn until I was in my late teens, at least sparing some portion of my existence from being committed to digital memory; following the launch this week of £1,500 connected cots with built-in ipads, this is a luxury that children will likely never have again. Now, it seems our only choice is to understand how best to navigate this unwieldy new world.
Perhaps we might borrow a function from the social media behemoth Snapchat, which erases posts a short period after they were sent. Dissolving memories, admittedly, doesn’t sound like much fun. But nor does never being able to escape your every utterance forevermore.
Body hair: what is it good for? Making you less prone to infection and regulating your core temperature!
But these words are sure to fall on the deaf, glabrous ears of British men, 46 per cent of whom, according to Mintel research, have taken to shearing their short and curlies.
I know what you’re thinking – that this is surely the pastime of smoothchested Love Island types, when they briefly pause from swiping on their smartphones. Yet the follicle offensive extends to men aged over 65, too. While 12 per cent of that group dabbled in nostril-mowing two years ago, 2018’s figure stands at 31 per cent, with extra percentage points added for eyebrow and ear maintenance.
Are men growing vainer? Have they simply tired of their actual gardens, and taken to the pruning of a different kind instead? Who can say. Let’s just hope those now minus a corporeal rug wrap up extra warm this winter. News this week that Prince Charles will not be a “meddling king” once he ascends the throne was roundly praised; a sign that he understands the great weight of sovereignty, and intends to carry it out with the gusto currently extended to his campaigning efforts.
It’s wonderfully noble, this selfimposed ban on sticking your nose in. Though I have to say, I hope some of the mini-monarchs in waiting take a less diligent stance. I am resting these ambitions squarely on the shoulders of Princess Charlotte who, having beaten me to the punch, title-wise, might at least soften the blow by taking a more casual approach to playing by the rules. It’s only fair that she gives back to her lowly namesakes, really. And, after throwing a tantrum on the tarmac of Hamburg Airport (after which she promptly fell over), earning a reputation for bossing other royal sprogs about and taking another public tumble at Princess Eugenie’s wedding last month, it looks as though she really is doing the (clumsy) work of us Charlottes across the land. FOLLOW Charlotte Lytton on Twitter @charlottelytton; READ MORE at telegraph.co.uk/opinion
The online outrage mob has targeted the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton