Digital accountability – a terrible beauty is born

An interesting comment from my mother

Jimmy Savile would not have got away with it today.”

This from an 80 year old who observes the digital age with detached amusement but understands that the behaviour of a celebrity is now governed by public censure.

Could Savile’s caravan sit in the car park of the BBC’s offices in Salford Quays? Would his victims not have posted their experiences on facebook, would twitter not have amplified the rumours as they circulated.

Take the arrest of Aaron Cawley following his attack on Chris Kirkland, the Sheffield Wednesday keeper. Cawley’s Facebook page was paraded on twitter within minutes of the match ending and though the police were applauded for getting their man, it was as much in the interests of Cawley’s personal safety as the public’s that he was taken into custody!

Re-cast the Hillsborough disaster into the digital age and it seems impossible that the lines peddled by the press and the police could have been created or perpetuated. Trial by YouTube as much as CCTV is the future for public order offendors!

Stand at the back of any public event and what you see is not a crowd focussed on the action but a crowd focussed on the screen of their devices. I have even seen people recording the images pumped at them from the wide-screens that transmit on-stage action.

Whatever we may think about the explosion of digital information over the past five years, we must accept that the privacy of our actions is now so reduced , that almost every aspect of our behaviour could be open to public scrutiny.

Go into the privacy settings on your phone and find out how many of the features of your phone are driven by information about your whereabouts. “Follow me” on twitter can mean just that, down to the last few metres.

My mum is pretty well out of the digital loop yet even she has a google profile (probably my fault). We may look back at her generation as the last that could really call their lives their own.

But as this bank of digital information builds, so does our vulnerability to exposure.

For a Jimmy Savile to operate today, he would need the complicity not just of a tight group of cronies but of the entire world wide web. This is as comforting as the implications for our behaviour are disquieting.

The digital revolution is a two edged sword, but both edges lead to greater clarity  and accountability. We may not like the scrutiny that we have brought upon ourselves but we need to come to terms with the reality that all has changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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