If Brooks Newmark is ‘sick’ what does that say about the rest of us?

We’re not only entitled to a private life, we’re entitled to a secret life

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The Independent Online

Alan Bleasdale, Britain's greatest living playwright, once said: "We are only as sick as our secrets". I reflected on this last weekend when the news broke that Brooks Newmark, the Minister for Civil Society (who knew we had such a thing?), resigned when he was revealed to have sent a number of sexually suggestive messages and an inappropriate image of himself to a Twitter respondent who turned out be a freelancer working for the Sunday Mirror.

Brooks Newmark may have had a secret, but is he sick? Of course not, and if he is sick, what does that say about the rest of us, the millions who have clandestine flirtations on social media, those who trawl the networks late at night looking for thrills, and the vast numbers of  functioning individuals who are seduced by the impersonality of Twitter into presenting a fantastic portrait of themselves without shame, blame or consequence.

There is a fundamental question here, and I don't pretend to know the answer. We are all entitled to a private life - that much is enshrined in human rights legislation. But are we entitled also to a secret life, one which doesn't break any laws and which doesn't cause any harm? Brooks Newmark has been a bloody idiot, and he has admitted as much himself. He had a secret, not a particularly dirty one as it turned out, but government ministers with secrets had better be especially careful.

It should be remembered at this point that his entrapment - and that is surely what it was - took place over a four-month period. It wasn't as if he'd received a salacious message from a random good-looking woman and straight away whipped off his undercrackers and took a selfie. He was lured by his bogus "follower", and sustained by the idea that Twitter is a place where one can make, and maintain, genuine friendships. Twitter, on the contrary, is a make-believe land populated by real people, but many of them are in disguise.

I suppose any of us who use any social network, or indeed any form of electronic personal communication, should do so expecting that anything they say or do could be broadcast to a wider public, and behave accordingly. But is that what our lives have become in the digital age? We have very little privacy as it is, and now we must also surrender our secrets. What kind of a civil society is that? I'm sure the minister responsible for such matters would have something to say about that. Oh, maybe not...

No one forced Brooks Newmark to go on to Twitter, and of course many millions of people use the network assiduously without feeling the need to broadcast a picture of their tackle. But I still don't see what he did was that terrible, and I am not aware of any universe where it would be considered of public interest.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. A newspaper reporter with a false identity is certainly not that person. And nor are any of us who have said or done something on social networks that we wouldn't do in real life. We are all Brooks Newmark. It's just that he took the rap for all of us.

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