The internet is robbing teenagers of their right to be a dick without consequences
Over Christmas, back at my family home, I indulged in a favourite pass time – rereading my teenage diaries.
These diaries are ridiculous, even by teenage girl standards.
They’re filled with lines like ‘my school skirt is at the dry cleaner’s and I feel so alone’, and ‘If [redacted] loses her virginity before me I’m going to kill myself.’
Mixed in with those totally normal, if slightly dramatic, lines, are sentences that I can hardly believe I wrote, most of which I’m too ashamed to repeat.
‘[Redacted] got fingered at the weekend, she is such a f**king slut’ reads one page.
‘[Redacted] is dating a black guy – I’m so jealous’ says another. My teenage diaries read like a problematic catalogue of spoiled, judgmental, small minded slut shaming – evidence that some of us saw Mean Girls as an instruction manual rather than a warning.
But, luckily for me, those comments exist on pages in books, under a bed in Sussex, rather than on the internet.
I will forever be grateful that Bebo, the social networking site of choice when I was in my early teens, is gone, and that the only real evidence of my twattery lives on the page, not on the screen.
My Bebo featured jokes about sex work, slut shaming and more fat shaming comments than you could shake a stick at.
Which is nothing compared to my friends who covered theirs with racist quotes from Borat or jokes about Madeleine McCann.
Why? Because we were pushing the boundaries. Working out what it was to be an adult. Deliberately trying to shock and upset other people to get a reaction.
Because, to repeat my earlier point, we were twats. Lucky twats, for whom the slate has been wiped clean.
When I read last week that 19 year-old Brittany Colley had made the papers for crying when PrettyLittleThing.com sent her the wrong New Year’s Eve dress, I – like many people – wanted to stop the world and get off.
An otherwise seemingly healthy and prosperous young woman was in the national press, sobbing over having to wear an old dress to a party.
What a twat.
But then I realised that the main purpose of being 19 is to be a twat.
It’s the twilight of your twatdom. You’re still working out who you are, what you want, and yes, you’re still occasionally throwing a massive paddy over things which technically don’t matter even a little bit at all.
It’s part of growing up, a sticky ugly process that all of us had to go through.
Once upon a time when you reached adulthood and finished being a twat you could wipe the slate clean. Your parents and siblings might remember it and torture you with it, but for the most part, it’s gone.
Not so in 2018. We’re rapidly losing our rights to be a total tit online when we’re young.
Even a gloriously innocent video of a dancing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was dragged out of the depth of the internet in an attempt to shame and embarrass her (though let’s face it, it just made her seem even cooler).
I’ve spent hours of my life going through my old tweets, deleting anything which no longer represents my values. And in some ways, I resent having to do that.
Deleting problematic old tweets feels like trying to pretend that I was a different, better, person when I was younger.
But the thing is, I wasn’t. I was the kind of girl who got drunk and then argued with taxi drivers. My old tweets about celebrities gaining weight or liking a homeless man’s hat might be grim, but they were the truth of who I was at that time.
And then, like most people, I grew up, developed a sense of perspective, became a bit more woke and – crucially – became a lot more aware that there are somethings that you just don’t say publically.
The idea that a badly thought through Facebook status or a badly worded tweet can come back and haunt you ten years later just seems so grossly unfair.
If you didn’t ever say something stupid as a teenager, then that’s something to be very proud of. But it’s not the case for the vast majority of us.
Most of us have made a questionable joke or an un-PC comment.
The only difference is, if you grew up before social media then you probably said it to a mate’s face, rather than putting it online.
There are a lot of great things about growing up in the internet age – not least having Wikipedia when you’re trying to write an essay.
But let’s face it, it comes at a pretty heavy cost.