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We lived out our teens online, of course we said stupid shit

We were all trash and times have changed – digging through timelines is unfair

TextKemi AlemoruPhotographyJohn Yuyi

Stormzy was the most recent target of a media trend targeting public figures and searching their old tweets for slurs and keywords. The Attitude article included three homophobic slurs from as far back as when the rapper was 17.

It’s almost as if people have only just discovered how to do a keyword search for a particular Twitter handle (I actually only learned this week). Trial-by-timeline means public figures have lost the jobs and the respect they worked to gain. But this new and, quite frankly, lazy journalistic trope means that words written in a split second at the start of this decade, by the younger and more foolish versions of celebrities we now know, have come under heavy public scrutiny.

This month, the ‘archive police’ have also taken more people out of I’m a Celeb than the exotic animals or humiliating tasks, since people discovered that 22-year-old Jack Maynard said awful words like “nigger” and “retard” in 2011. He would have been about 16. Logan Sama was due to start a new grime slot on 1Xtra, but when sexist and racist tweets from 2011 surfaced BBC swiftly cancelled the show.

Gay Times followed suit sacking their new editor, Josh Rivers, before his first issue launch after Buzzfeed unearthed some generally horrific tweets from 2010-2015. There’s barely any demographic on this earth that was spared from his tirades, which is ironic, as he was appointed as the mag’s first BME editor and had been extremely vocal in championing diversity and differences. Understandably, his past tweets undermined his recent work. He was 25 – maybe he should have known better. But, even sickly sweet Zoella once tweeted about “fat chavs” and mused that she found it funny “when gay men spit” in 2010. She was 20.

These ages and years are important – there are huge changes in how you act when you have youth and ignorance on your side. Everyone should be allowed to grow up and distance themselves from their mistakes, once they have genuinely changed for the better.

You don’t get a prize for pointing out that racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism and body shaming are definitely bad. It’s 2017. If you’ve not come to these realisations already then you’re late. However, if you dare to look back at your old Myspace, Piczo, Bebo, Facebook pre-2011, Twitter before you had any followers – you might discover that you or those around you sound like ignorant little weirdos.

We’re becoming increasingly politically active, more aware of the systems of oppression stacked against minorities. We monitor our language now, and the language of others – almost to a fault some may say. Back then, it was a space to spout nonsense to your mates, internet culture was not “woke” and unfortunately the more outrageous your posts, the more attention you got. Social media has become a learning tool, a syllabus of key terms and debates from safe spaces to microaggressions. However, social media was not always this intelligent, especially when we weren’t.

The glaring cultural blindspot here is that not many people are acknowledging the context. We’re talking about a different time and culture. A lot of people were gladly laughing at gay when used as an insult or to describe something bad in their teens. Remember Katy Perry’s late noughties tune “Ur So Gay” in which she rips into a “metrosexual” man who has the audacity to feel emotion and like nice clothes? Every comedy from Friends to Superbad managed to slip in gay jokes to police every close male friendship, without fierce retribution. Also, if you rewatch our beloved Sex and the City it has aged so badly. Especially once you realise they’re all inherently awful feminists, terrible caricatures and irrational as hell (see Charlotte’s dilemma because “nobody marries the up-the-butt girl”). All the while Black Eyed Peas proudly sang “Let’s Get Retarded”.

Varaidzo, an arts and culture writer, actually used an internet archive platform to expose Attitude publishing transphobic language in the same week and year as the tweet they dug up about Stormzy. People in glass houses shouldn’t play this dangerous game of Twitter roulette.  

“People in glass houses shouldn’t play this dangerous game” 

Stormzy has since apologised for his past homophobia in a thread of heartfelt tweets. “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 (sic) views that I’ve unlearned as I’ve grown up and become a man,” he wrote. It’s a good apology and also raises the very obvious point that views, language and culture are all subject to change on a personal level and as a society.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to apologise and also evaluate that behaviour. These words carry a lot of pain for a lot of people. It’s right to feel embarrassed and ashamed. Anyone who uses these words will obviously have their character questioned, but we have to be able to decipher whether those words reflect the views of the person they currently are.

Our parents were afforded the privilege of learning to become well-rounded individuals away from prying eyes. We’re the first generation to have lived our lives out loud and online, with every problematic joke or viewpoint of ours has been archived until deliberately unearthed or deleted. I’m not saying the internet made us ignorant, but it was there to memorialise our stupidest moments.

When Facebook memories throws up cringe statuses and pictures of me and my friends downing Lambrini in a park all wearing jeggings, all doing the peace sign I’m horrified to learn who I was 6, 7, 8 years ago. I hold my hands up – I did some digging and I didn’t like what I found. Some juvenile jokes had my name on them but that’s not me. I’d never say them now. I’d never wear jeggings again. I’m not 15. Times have changed and I am embarrassed I was so thirsty and messy online.

There are people right now who have terrible beliefs, wrinkles and jobs. They are old enough to know better and yet they are truly racist, homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic. An MP used the word nigger this year, she was 60 and she still has a job. Boris Johnson, 53, publicly laughed at Libya’s “dead bodies”. The most popular publications in our country are in overdrive to make money out of growing racial tensions and Page 3 misogyny every day. They’re run by adults. Trump is old. Katie Hopkins is old. These people have real power and disseminate their deplorable beliefs out loud every day, still.

An archive own goal should not distract us from real bigots, especially if the adult you’ve grown into has shown you to be decent. I struggle to believe these fierce critics didn’t have a personal learning curve. Growing up online shouldn’t mean we’re spoiled goods for life.