Lara Prendergast brings us a cover article titled Welcome to the digital inquisition (also called, simply, The Digital Inquisition and, previously, Would You Survive the Digital Inquisition?), coupled with a podcast (see below). The is a must-read accompanying column — Your online history will always come back to haunt you, but only if you are on the right; if you are on the left, it won’t matter at all — while the Spectator cover is drawn by The Times' favorite Norwegian cartoonist, Morten Morland (that's Morten Mørland to you, bud!). Lara Prendergast's article starts with reminiscences:
A friend of mine at university had a rule: he didn’t want anything to appear online that might ruin a future political career. On nights out, when photos were being taken, he’d quietly move out of the picture. While we were all wittering away to each other on social media, he kept schtum. Strange, I remember thinking. Why so paranoid?
I thought of my friend when Toby Young started making headlines. … It’s baffling: why is everyone, seemingly, talking about a journalist having to leave a minor government body that nobody had heard of?
The answer is that Toby has become just the latest — and perhaps the highest-profile — target of a new phenomenon: the digital inquisition. It is something that anyone wanting to enter public life can — and should — expect. As my university friend knew, if you happen to be ambitious in the internet age, you must be very careful about everything you say or do online.
… Tweets never grow old or die: words published years ago can be reposted, fresh as the day they were typed. Remarks from one context can be republished in another.
… Social media companies have tricked us all. They have lured us into thinking we can lower our guard online and talk candidly as if to friends. They have coaxed us into blurring personal and private worlds in the name of free speech. We have been led to think our comments are ephemeral when nothing could be further from the truth. Tweets are dashed off, then forgotten about — only to be discovered years later by anyone with a bone to pick. We live in a confessional age and are encouraged to reveal all our inner thoughts. What’s not encouraged, so much, is to reflect over whether we would be prepared to stand by everything we have said in the future.
… Anthony Scaramucci … said that ‘gotcha’ politics is dead. He soon learnt otherwise.
‘Gotcha’ politics has not died. It has evolved. Unedited thoughts have never been easier to publish — or find. For my age group, most of our lives have been captured online. By the time anyone born in the new millennium starts to enter public life, there will be masses of images of them and words by them on the internet.
It’s no surprise that younger people have started to use technology that offers more privacy as the default. Apps such as Snapchat and Telegram use messaging that self-destructs — or at least pretends to. … This week Kensington Palace announced that Meghan Markle had closed all her social media accounts. It’s highly unlikely though that there won’t be a record of everything she’s said, somewhere.
… One might have dared hope that, in an era when the capacity to snoop is almost limitless, we would learn to be more forgiving of the failings of others. Instead, the mood is ever more nosey and censorious.
… The advent of social media therefore sets a new bar for anyone wanting to enter public life: the trail you leave online will now be used to judge your character. Is your profile clean enough? If not, forget it. Indiscretions, youthful or otherwise, are now immortal sins. This will delight the bureaucratic class, who find it far easier to beat away outsiders or rebels who aspire to a career in politics. This new state of play will also deter anyone who doesn’t fancy having their life pored over, their reputation trashed.
The internet dream was that the web would create a more open society. It wouldn’t really matter what you said because everyone would feel more liberated. The opposite has happened: increasingly, people are nervous about what they say online for fear of future rebuke. Far from making everyone feel free to speak their minds, the internet has made many of us terrified of self–expression. …