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Think before you tweet

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Don’t let Twitter bring out your inner Angry Bird, advises Christine Murray

Who needs the tabloid press when we’ve got Twitter? Now architects can do their own mud-slinging via social media. And so they have this week, with two RIBA presidents having a go at an architecture practice over the charity auction of a work experience placement.

When Barbara Weiss Architects (BWA) donated one week’s work experience at her office to an auction at Westminster School, the reaction on Twitter was quick and vicious, describing it as ‘appalling’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘outrageous’. The auction, which plans to raise money for bursaries and capital projects, featured similar placements with firms such as private bank Coutts and fashion designer Amanda Wakeley.

Barbara Weiss Architects should be ashamed of themselves,’ said architecture student Gavin Welch (@ArchiWelch23h) with the hashtag ‘disgust’ - copying in current RIBA president Angela Brady (@angelabradyRIBA).

Brady weighed in soon after the initial tweet: ‘I just put out a boycott for unpaid work,’ Brady wrote. ‘And now, paying a practice?’ In fact, the money was not for the practice, but for the school. ‘I believe it is exploitation of student. [sic]’ Brady continued.

Then former RIBA president Ruth Reed (@profruthreed) entered the fray, describing the offer as ‘privilege gone mad’. ‘Sad day when practical experience is for privileged few bought by parents at auction,’ Reed added.

‘Will the student get paid?’ Reed also demanded, rhetorically - after all, Weiss was not on Twitter to reply.

Off Twitter, in an email response to Brady (seen by the AJ), Weiss wrote: ‘BWA has been offering free work experience to schoolchildren from every possible school for many years now, particularly to children from state schools.’

Weiss also explained that other Westminster School pupils were welcome to complete work experience at BWA for free. She said the practice did not offer un-paid internships and had always paid year-out students.

‘It is absurd and highly offensive that rumours are being spread that BWA is benefiting in any way from offering a week of work experience … The RIBA
should be encouraging other practices to engage with schools at the same level as BWA does, rather than spreading untruths.’

The apologies on Twitter came as quickly as the condemnation - in a succession of tweets, Brady wrote: ‘Sincere apologies to BWA - it was not clear her word ‘intern’ referred to ‘work experience’. In fact her practice has exemplary record.’

‘BWA is also prepared to offer work experience to other Westminster School students not bidding in the auction,’ Brady also tweeted. ‘All money raised at the auction goes to the Westminster School charity. They do not get any benefit but help pupils.’

But the damage had already been done - Weiss has been receiving hate mail and the previous Twitter comments will be on the record indefinitely.

You will all have your own opinion about whether BWA’s well-intentioned auction item was in poor taste. But architects should be wary of moralising blind. Twitter is a public forum, and a libel action is not out of the question. Throw stones at your peril.

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