When You Can’t Hide Your Dirt, Who Is Going To Lead? Why We Need To Create The Digital Confessional Box.

Very recently the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has come under a lot of heat following surreal and salacious allegations of “pig fucking” during his time at University. This has created a nasty PR headache for the Tory government. The only real solace that can be found in this for the beleaguered Tory PR gurus is that back in the days when Cameron was burning £50 notes in front of the homeless for Bullingdon Club initiations there was very little documentation of these sordid behaviours. However, the next generation of politicians will not possess this liberty. After all, it’s pretty hard to deny that it is in fact you in the picture sparking up the comedy sized J when it’s been captured in 20 megapixels.

The next generation of politicians will be drawn from my generation. A generation which is, fairly or not, is frequently accused of crimes of nauseating entitlement, apathy and generally being just a tiny bit vapid. My generation was the first to mature with open access to the internet. YouTube was founded in the same year I went to secondary school, we oversaw the rise and fall of MySpace and were Facebook’s flagship users. We were also the first to gain access to camera phones. Ever since this unholy matrimony of camera and internet we have witnessed volatile combinations of youthful recklessness, the want to impress coupled with the unprecedented ability of the dim witted to share the end products online.

Happy Slapping was an early trailblazer for this. The hideously pixelated videos of teenagers slapping unexpected strangers succeeding in evoking the spirit of tabloid hysteria. By all means Happy Slapping was as moronically savage as it sounds, even resulting in a manslaughter conviction. In recent years though it has been superseded by many other questionable social media crazes such as Neknomination, amongst more innocuous trends like Planking. It goes without saying that such trends generally don’t represent the best of the generation or of the individual involved.

The enduring popularity of these trends even as the individual crazes go out of style is a further validation of something which we have always known: that for better or worse, people are herd animals. Teenagers have always been anxious and naïve. Social media though has exacerbated this perennial sense of angst. It’s not exactly a shock then that the instinct to be one of the guys will very often quietly stifle the cries of red flags from better judgements. Therefore it’s almost inevitable that at some point a social media account will display something made in poor taste.

By trawling through the social media accounts of almost anyone someone can find examples of bad taste jokes, bigoted political opinions, documented indulgences in drinking and drug taking; sexualised photographs, superfluous personal information and general buffoonery to some extent or another. Sometimes stupid social media posts really do just reflect the nature of the fool who shared them. However, increasingly we are seeing that things said and done years ago don’t reflect the ambitions and practices of the individual. Especially once they have gained some valuable experience and had a harsh life lesson or two.

What we care to share with our “friends”, and maybe even strangers on the internet generally doesn’t align with the prim facades that we try to display to employers, or maybe even an electorate. The distinction between a work and social life is increasingly becoming harder to maintain and we are already seeing many professionals paying dearly for the sins of their youth. This problem is going to become a particular issue in the political sphere where personal lives are already dissected to the point of an autopsy. The next generation of tabloid hacks though will have treasure troves of material to paint very lurid character assassinations.

Some future professionals in choosing their career path will have to factor in the prospect of seeing their repulsive gurn face fuelled by dodgy half grams from that night in Fabric splashed out on the Daily Mail’s Sidebar of Shame. This prospect raises the very real potential for the future leaders and innovators of the world saying a collective “fuck it” to their idealistic ambitions and settling for a career in HR instead. The run off effect of this being that we may end up having our public services directed by only the most cautious and vanilla; not the qualities which we necessarily seek in our leaders.

Because of this we face the dilemma of how much to forgive and when. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that public figures should not be held accountable for their actions both past and present; especially when it delves into illegal territory. But I do think that it is clear that at some point we will have to accept that these figures, like us all are inherently flawed, and that we are going to see more and more of this. Eventually we will have to cut them some slack.

That being said we can always have some improvement. I think part of an improved solution ironically may lie in one of the most conservative institutions around: the Catholic Church. The concept of the Sacrament of Penance is oddly applicable to the situation which we find ourselves in. It would be absurd to force a prospective civil servant to pay penance for every offensive Tweet or photo indulging in underage drinking. What would be more realistic would be full confessional disclosure and repentance. With such a disclosure there could be a figurative absolution for the sins of the past. If it were possible to remove the prospect of being publicly shamed for teenage crimes then maybe those with the characteristics of leaders would feel comfortable enough to stand on a podium.

This is a reality which we will have to come to grips with eventually. Social media has changed the DNA of this generation. Humans have, still do and will continue to have moments of pure unadulterated idiocy. The difference being that the millennial generation has an uncomfortable tendency to broadcast it. Regardless, it is these same millennials that we will eventually have to rely on to perform irreplaceable roles. It is for this reason that we need to learn to get over some personal flaws. A system of digital confession, penance and absolution could go a long way to fulfilling this.