28 3 mins 9 yrs

There is a very large Tweeting community and it like every other community, it contains the mad and the bad, along with the great and the good. People tweet some rather wonderful comments, along with some real TRASH.  But it strikes me that the decision of Dorset Police to arrest a 17 yr old boy who sent horrible tweets to UK Olympic diver Tom Daley is deeply flawed.  At the time, I condemned the guy concerned for his cruel and stupid tweets but the Police took it to a whole new level and that worries me as a free speech issue. Here’s a good commentary on the same topic;

It is good to see that Dorset Police have come in for a lot of flak for their harebrained decision to arrest the 17-year-old who sent horrible tweets to Tom Daley. It is not only that police must surely have better things to do than chase down teens tapping dumb things on their computer keyboards. More importantly, even if all the crime in Britain was wiped out and the Old Bill found themselves at a loose end, they would still have no business knocking on a tweeter’s door and interfering in the realm of speech, thoughts and words. It is occasionally the job of the state to reprimand our behaviour; it should never be its job to police our expression. And yes, even though there was a “death threat” involved in the anti-Daley tweeting, this was still a speech issue rather than a physical-threat issue – no reasonable person could possibly believe that this tweeter’s “threat” was a real one, when it was simply the crescendo to his infantile, bedroom-based sounding off.

The Police should keep their snouts OUT of social networking.  The Twitterati had already damned and mocked the foolish boy. His vicious comments do not warrant repetition here but I think he has a right to say whatever he wants. There is a BLOCK button on Twitter where you just vanquish whoevere annoys you. I use it frequently! Tom Daley can use it too. We must allow people the right to make utter fools of themselves and Devon Police surely have more pressing priorities than this sort of stunt.

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28 thoughts on “THE RIGHT TO BE STUPID…

  1. “999 emergency services police department, how can I help?”

    “A man has broken into my house, he has a gun and has my wife hostage.”

    “Sorry, sir, but we do not have any units available right now.”

    “Okay, but someone has just called me a nasty word on Twitter.”

    “Why didn’t you say? We’ll have an officer around within five minutes.”

  2. The Police should keep their snouts OUT of social networking.

    Totally agree. But don’t rule out legislation making it an offense to use insulting language on social networks. Be sure that the police are lobbying for it.

  3. I don’t think the main motivation behind police action in cases like this is censorship, I think it is more a case of the plice allowing themselves to be lead by the media nose. Twitter and facebook and other social contact sites have millions of very very offensive messages flying about them every day, but it seems only when a ‘celebrity’ is involved or a message becomes a news story that the police feel they have to appear on stage and join in the show.

  4. There are two problems here –

    Police involvement in what should never have been a police matter


    The fact that 17 year olds ( or others ) actually think that this stuff is acceptable.

  5. Since a “celebrity” was involved, I’m suprised the useless police didn’t turn up with a film crew when they nicked this herbert.

    That aside, the problem didn’t start with the police, they were simply enforcing Parliament’s Malicious Communications Act.

  6. Such an act has no place in a country that prides itself as the founding bastion of free speech.

    In the US, such law would be struck down immediately as being inconsistent with the First Amendment. Has it been challenged in a major way in your courts? Could it be?

    On the wrong day, you could indict half the country on law that is shockingly overbroad.

  7. Phantom

    I don’t see how it can be challenged. We don’t have anything as robust as your free speech guarantees.

  8. As Bertrand Russell predicted, humanity is splitting into those who use Twitter, and those intelligent enough not to use Twitter.

    “Gradually, by selective breeding, the congenital differences between rulers and ruled will increase until they become almost different species. A revolt of the plebs would become as unthinkable as an organized insurrection of sheep against the practice of eating mutton.”

    Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1953) pgs. 49-50

  9. Colm –

    “We don’t have anything as robust as your free speech guarantees.”

    Of course we do, even if we choose to ignore it. The First Amendment is simply the common law’s principle of “no prior restraint” codified.

  10. Allan wrote:

    As Bertrand Russell predicted, humanity is splitting into those who use Twitter, and those intelligent enough not to use Twitter.

    The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

  11. Pete Moore

    No it isn’t. The First amendment is a clear legal protection of speech “No prior restraint” simply means no prosecution before the event. Our common law does not guarantee freedom of speech.

  12. Pete,

    “Well I’m doubtful about AGW. ”

    No you’re not. You express your opinion about AGW, and quite a few other things, as if it were proven fact, instead of flying in the face of logic, observation and pretty much all expert opinion.

  13. Colm –

    Like “no prior restraint”, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech but doesn not give immunity from the consequences.

  14. Pete

    Yes it does. Attempts to prosecure speech in the US have routinely been thrown out by the cours precisely because of that constitutional immunity. English style Libel laws won’t work in the US because of the first amendment. You cannot claim a legal right to free speech in our courts when defending yourself from Libel. However much you try to claim so, our common law does not offer the same cast iron legal benchmark guarantee as the American first amendment.

  15. ….and pretty much all expert opinion.

    Pete – why don’t you get on your knees and apologise to ‘expert opinion’ for disagreeing with them?

  16. Colm –

    Of course “English-style libel laws” won’t work in the US. It’s a foreign fucking country.

    “You cannot claim a legal right to free speech in our courts when defending yourself from Libel.”

    And that’s no defence in the US either. They have strictures against slander, libel and defamation over there too. The point is that the Malicious Communications Act is illegitimate because is transgresses common law principle. If you wrong someone with your speech or words you are still liable, but it’s not Parliament’s place to restrict what can be said in the first place.

  17. Pete

    Thanks for demonstrating you are losing the argument by swearing. That first sentence of yours is plain idiotic and you know it.

  18. Pete,

    “I’m doubtful about AGW.”

    No you aren’t. See above. Either you’re very sure that AGW is a load of shit, or someone else has been posting using your name and making you look a right idiot.

    “Are you still cocksure?”

    Have you stopped beating your wife?

  19. Pete

    Here there are only ” consequences ” in the event of libel / slander / open incitement / theft of intellectual property in some cases.

    This –new– UK act goes a lot further than these things. What the moron did on facebook would not have led to a prosecution in this country.

  20. Phantom –

    Yes, that’s what I aid in my 11.34pm. The First Amendment and the “no prior restraint” principle aren’t protections when speech is actionable. They simply mean that the State cannot draw lines around what can be said or written in the first place.

    The Malicious Communications Act isn’t new, it dates from 1988. Well done Tories.

  21. Fair enough.

    But its new in the context of a country with a long history.

    This law would be thrown out by any federal court in the US on a unanimous verdict of judges. I think that it shows the value of a strong and explicit First Amendment.

  22. “This law would be thrown out by any federal court in the US on a unanimous verdict of judges. I think that it shows the value of a strong and explicit First Amendment.”

    Not sure that is really true – there’s nothing wrong in principle with the malicious communications act, it fits both the letter and spirit of no prior restraint. There’s nothing about free speech that gives you the right to force anyone to listen nor to put your message wherever you like.

    So if for example somebody was repeatedly sending harrassing messages and evading blocks or ignoring requests to stop doing so (e.g. spammers) it’s not unreasonable that there should be some consequence to that.

    Also it requires intent, which should be difficult to prove – IMO should at least require that the recipient asked the person to stop and/or used technical measures to block them, and the person continued anyway. Trying to get around technical blocks in order to continue spamming would be a particular giveaway.

  23. Do you think that the case under discussion is consistent with the spirit of the Act?

  24. Frank

    Actually, the Fabrice Muamba case is a much better example.

    This numbskull made public commments on Twitter.The subject was someone who would not have been reading Twitter, since he had collapsed. The ” injured parties ” were other Twitter users.

    The case is awful, the sender was despicable, but he would not have been prosecuted in the US for such a thing. But he was, under this same overbroad act.


  25. I doubt it – twitter has a block button, for a start. It also has a way to report spammers.

    If he got blocked or reported for spam and started making new accounts to get around that then maybe.

    Basically I think the principle is, or should be, that people have a right not to listen, a right to withdraw from the conversation. Freedom of speech is not a right to tattoo your message on the inside of somebody’s eyelids.

  26. My 1.59 was in response to your 1.38

    Re Muamba the act allows that other people can be the injured party – but again, it still requires intent.

    There was supposedly an update which made it an offence even if somebody, including a bystander, *felt* distressed, no matter what you intended, but I’m not sure that’s true. If it is then that is definitely nonsense.

    This is not really down to the act or the police, but in large part down to a sizeable number (minority?) of people who don’t really have the liberal (voltaire style) value of free speech at all. The article David links makes a similar point.

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