Now that I’m in my mid-twenties I still find it bizarre that by pressing the left hand arrow key on my most recently tagged photo on Facebook, I instantly find myself face to face with fifteen-year-old me on my first “girly” holiday in Malia. These pictures are certainly not in keeping with my current, more carefully curated, online persona. Indeed, I found myself only last week Googling whether I could stop people accessing all the photographic evidence of “Georgie Throughout The Ages”.
It’s not that I am embarrassed of these snaps – and quite frankly I did nothing of particular interest when I was knocking around in my teens – but there’s something very intimate about my early FB years. They are self portraits capturing a time that I was still trying to figure myself out. I feel protective over my evolution and, despite nothing incriminating lurking, I don’t like how transparent my timeline makes me to others.
And I only exist on Facebook from my mid-teens. Parents now upload pictures of their children everyday through from conception. It’s the equivalent of everyone having access to your family albums that used to only get an airing at Christmas.
But it’s one thing squirming over your latest Tinder date seeing a snap of you with bad hair extensions aged sixteen, it’s another when these snaps interfere with your career. Last year, when I got to the late stages of becoming a Blue Peter presenter, the Executive Producer had a very serious chat with me about removing any images online that show me drinking excessively (goodbye gap year pics) or getting up to anything that looked irresponsible (goodbye first year uni pictures).
And it’s not only people in the public eye, all my friends who are lawyers, doctors or teachers have to be careful what their Facebook profile reveals about them. This isn’t the biggest of asks if you are controlling what goes up now that we are professionals, but how do you censor your wayward teen years?
I posed this question to MP Sadiq Khan because if anyone was going to be flawed by an “in bad taste” fancy dress theme it surely would be a politician. He too was concerned about how young people’s online personas may encroach on future career paths:
“The problem today with social media is that you put so much information out there when you are civilian, that once you become a politician and put your head above the parapet, it’s used against you. What happens then is that you’ve got four-year-olds, who are dreaming of being an MP, not living a normal life. It is bad all round.”
I’m not sure if I agree if there are many four-year-olds out there creating online profiles to help them become Prime Ministers, but I do agree with Khan’s point that we don’t want politicians “who are square from the age of two”. I would be worried that if in twenty years time there weren’t any pictures of our Prime Minister downing a Thai bucket with glow paint on. It is part of life and you need these initiations to round off your edges as a person.
The question is though, will the public, press or prospective employees take this attitude when they stumble upon that incriminating house party photo? I think in the long term, yes. We will get to the point of saturation where these images will hold no power or scandal factor. However Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat weren’t around in Sadiq Khan’s younger years. We are still yet to make that transition. The first generation of teen social media users are only now beginning to climb into positions of power.
So as the first rounds of online mishaps start cropping up in the papers and on the recruiters’ desk, I hope culturally we will be able to reconfigure them in the context in which they were captured.
I would prefer if my timeline didn’t give away my intimate coming-of-age moments, but as it is so embroiled with my life, I just hope I don’t get penalised for it.