Like many teenagers, England cricketer Ollie Robinson is guilty of posting a few silly, juvenile and offensive jokes on social media. It’s unlikely he gave any thought to how they might be viewed eight years on.
However, as we see so often, old social media posts can resurface when one least expects it. In this case, Robinson’s tweets were dug up and spread across the media, leaving both his reputation and career in serious jeopardy.
Of course, since writing the offending tweets, Robinson went on to build a professional career in cricket and develop a more mature and professional persona. But this matters very little to the offence archeologists, who scroll through Twitter in search of a reason for someone to be cancelled.
The decision by the England and Wales Cricket Board to give into media pressure and suspend Robinson from international cricket should make everyone, regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, deeply uncomfortable.
Anyone under the age of thirty-five will know that growing up in the age of social media has opened up new opportunities, but also brought with it many new pressures. Now it seems we’ve reached a point where Twitter has become a form of LinkedIn, but the objective is to find ways to lose people their jobs.
It is unlikely Robinson will be the last to fall foul of today’s standards and find himself or herself a victim of ‘cancel culture’ in this way. It’s only a matter of time before another young athlete, politician or journalist finds all of their years of hard work abruptly curtailed for something they said on social media years ago.
This is a very dispiriting thought and why it is so important that we address this cancel culture phenomenon so urgently.
Those who did not grow up with social media can take comfort in knowing that their teenage views and most juvenile moments weren’t recorded on social media for Twitter archeologists to dig up years later. They’ll likely only get judged on what they say in the present day.
To most people it would seem common sense that unless a tweet is very extreme or the context of a tweet makes a specific role unsustainable, an apology for errors of judgement as a young person should be sufficient.
Crucially, we must learn again to give people the benefit of the doubt. Anyone can make mistakes; even some of the people who agree that Robinson should have been suspended could be next and unaware.
As a society we need to ask whether we should judge a person based on their historical social media posts. How far can we reasonably go back to assess someone’s character? Should mildly offensive old tweets carry the same consequences as extremely offensive ones?
Young people shouldn’t have to delete their social media accounts to avoid the surprise of an anonymous troll finding their ill-thought-out joke from 2009 in the small hours of the night.
There is a desperate need to regain a sense of perspective and look at this rationally, particularly when an old tweet bears no relevance on the performance of the individual in their current role.
Of course, there are exceptions. When it surfaced that Tala Halawa, a BBC Digital Journalist based in Ramallah, had tweeted in 2014 that “Israel is no more #Nazi than #Hitler! Oh, #HitlerWasRight #IDF go to hell. #PrayForGaza” and “Zionist can’t get enough of our blood”, for example, an apology would not have been sufficient.
This is because her words not only surpass what we could reasonably class as a juvenile mistake but also because it taints the BBC, who have a duty to remain objective when reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The cultural sensitivities would also make Halawa’s presence on this topic unsustainable. The case is simply incomparable to Robinson’s juvenile posts.
It is heartening to see some Conservative MPs condemn the ECB’s weak decision. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden described it as “over the top” and Boris Johnson supported his statement. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Labour has reportedly come out in favour of the suspension.
It may be that the ECB’s knee-jerk decision to suspend Robinson can be overturned if enough pressure is applied on the organisation by his fellow England cricket players, as well as the very many disappointed cricket fans up and down the country.
However, this may not be enough. Cancel culture has made parts of our society lose sight of the importance of forgiveness.
Ideally, Robinson’s situation should have ended after his apology; it certainly did not warrant a suspension. The only way we can reverse this malicious trend is to set an example: to forgive people, especially those we disagree with, for what they may have clumsily said in the past.
Fundamentally, very few of us can say we’ve never said anything we later come to regret, on social media or in private. We would all do well to remember that.