Trend Alert: Search and shame

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‘Search and shame’ is a phrase coined by New Statesman journalist Amelia Tait to describe a new phenomenon in celebrity journalism. The writer had noticed a pattern of similar exposés by media outlets, which criticised famous and prominent people for offensive tweets they had posted years earlier, before they were well known. The issue was further investigated in a Radio 1 documentary last week.

The stories went viral and the revelations had serious consequences for the people involved. Examples include YouTuber Jack Maynard, who quit reality show I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! and lost endorsement deals after racist and homophobic tweets were revealed by The Sun, and Josh Rivers, who was sacked from his new job as Editor of Gay Times when Buzzfeed published tweets including antisemitic, sexist and ableist views. Even some of the UK’s most beloved stars, such as Zoella and Stormzy, have been subject to ‘search and shame.’ The tweets were all posted several years earlier, and were discovered by journalists searching the celebrities’ historic tweets for incidents of offensive language.

While the culprits have been condemned for the posts, the trend has also inspired debate over how much people should be held responsible for views they expressed when they were younger. ‘Search and shame’ is a phenomenon unique to the social media age, as in the past there would have been no public record of things people thought or said in their teenage years. There's no doubt that public figures should be held to account for their actions, but the motives of the media that publishes these exposés also deserve to be questioned.

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