No one is safe from the in­ter­net’s of­fence ar­chae­ol­o­gists

The Daily Telegraph - - Comment -

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

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