The fall of Paris Brown: a lesson in social media for employers and employees

Paris Brown, 17, ended her six-day tenure as Kent YPC – a £15,000-a-year, taxpayer-funded role with the remit of representing young people’s views on policing – following the emergence of a series of inappropriate tweets she had written on a personal Twitter account prior to taking up the position.

This account, used by Paris when she was between 14 and 16 years old, came under scrutiny for comments she made on topics such as alcohol, drugs and sex, and her use of language, which was deemed potentially homophobic and racist.

Ann Barnes, Kent Police Crime Commissioner and the person who appointed Paris, said at first that they had conducted a “proper recruitment process” but has since admitted that Paris’ tweets were not vetted prior to offering her the role.

Paris’ story has highlighted the risks of making inappropriate and offensive comments on social media sites and how they can seriously affect future job prospects. It should also remind employers of the importance of carrying out appropriate checks when recruiting.

Employers carrying out such research should proceed with care, however, as they could discover private information about an applicant; their religious beliefs, age, race, disability or perhaps even pregnancy. Should an employer then decide not to recruit that applicant they may find rightly or wrongly that they are on the receiving end of a claim for discrimination.

It is therefore advisable for employers to take reasonable practicable steps to prevent unlawful discrimination or harassment.

We would recommend that employers adopt a standard process throughout the recruitment stages in order to make an objective assessment of an applicant’s ability to do the job. This will ensure that all applicants are treated on equal terms and assist employers in demonstrating that they have assessed each applicant objectively.

For any employers concerned about comments made by their employees on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn it is essential that they have a social media policy in place, setting out clear guidelines for their employees.