Freedom of speech and Twitter do not mix. They should, but they don’t.
Lately there has been lots of stories about people getting into trouble for saying things over the Internet, particularly on Twitter. The most famous example of this has to be the case of Paul Chambers who was involved in the Twitter Joke trial. It all started when Paul Chambers tweeted regarding the closure of Robin Hood Airport due to the cold weather in late December 2009, leading to the disruption of flights – a frustrating time for anyone attempting to travel, i’m sure you’ll agree. Paul was due to fly out of Robin Hood airport on 6th January 2010 and after finding out about the closures, tweeted this message:
“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise i’m blowing the airport sky high!!”
I’m sure you’ll agree that in light of 9/11, the London bombings and other various terrorist attacks this wasn’t exactly the most intelligent thing to say, BUT I would also like to confirm that if that tweet was on my timeline I would have read it and then continued onto the next tweet without a second thought – I certainly wouldn’t have taken this tweet seriously as a threat. An off-duty manager at Robin Hood airport found this tweet and reported it to the police, resulting in Paul’s arrest and ultimately being found guilty of “sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to the Communications Act 2003”. He had to pay £1,000 in fines and legal fees and he lost his job as a consequence of this conviction. Everyone went mad saying that he clearly didn’t mean it – He had character references in court saying he would never do anything like that, blah blah blah, but the judge said the tweet contained menace and they couldn’t guarantee he didn’t mean what he was saying. I think you’d have to be pretty stupid to tweet that... and then do it?
I am blogging this today as there is a new freedom of speech incident that everyone has gone mad about. Grace Dent, the Guardian columnist and self proclaimed twitter addict got a massive cob on when some random guy called ‘Mufadel’ mentioned her in a tweet last night saying this:
“@gracedent reminds me of a girlfriend I once had. By girlfriend I mean that time I accidentally made love to an ugly abhorrent horse”.
Grace then got the hump and basically questioned why he would tweet her saying that if he works for a PR firm that she is also involved with, then proceeded to claim she was going to get him sacked by 10am the next morning. Despite Mufadel calling himself an idiot, neither of them have been on Twitter since and we don’t know what the outcome is.
I find this totally hypocritical of Grace Dent and don’t like the way she has insinuated she can play God with this man’s life. Yes it’s a stupid thing to say, but haven’t we all been called names before? You don’t get someone fired because they called you UGLY? I don’t know if it’s because Dent thinks she is a genuine famous person now, but why does she think she can stamp her feet and cry into the shoulders of the CEO of this PR firm and ruin this man’s life? I have been called many names on Twitter before, normally by 15 year old kids that think they know everything – I haven’t attempted to get them sacked or prosecuted by the police? You just take it on the chin and accept that on such an open, public forum, whether you are a in the public eye or not you get idiots like this. Grace Dent isn't alone in receiving stupid messages – she’s just alone in how she thinks she can deal with them.
Dent has previously published an article on the Guardian website which was called “100 things about me and Twitter”, in which she says the following (bold lines):
“By July 2009 I had about 5,987 followers - back then I said pretty much whatever I wanted on Twitter. It was like spraying words on a fence in neon, foot-high letters and never, ever getting detention for it”
So Dent can get away with saying whatever she wants but no one else can? Surely Dent must know how liberating it is to go on Twitter and have a massive rant or write whatever you want about anything and not get in trouble for it? That’s the beauty of Twitter, it’s like an online diary that stops you from rambling too much, but other people can read and laugh at the good bits and tell you how great you are. She just needs to remember that they can read the not so good bits and tell you how rubbish they are too – you open yourself up to this if you are on Twitter, it's an open forum. I don’t want this to sound like Twitter bullying is acceptable, i’m just saying you can’t stop it, same as you can’t stop kids hanging around outside shops from shouting abuse at you as you walk in, or fights in nightclubs.
If that is someone’s opinion then it’s annoying for her but there is nothing she can do about it – IT’S THEIR OPINION. I wouldn’t mind but judging from the context of that tweet he probably didn’t even mean it, he just said it for effect. I have seen MUCH, MUCH worse on Twitter. I have also tweeted things like this myself – not aimed directly at a celebrity, but if there has been someone famous I don’t like I have tweeted about it. I'm sure i'm not the only person that has wished eternal silence on Jedward (to put it nicely). The thing is NO ONE ACTUALLY MEANS THESE THINGS. I don’t REALLY want that to happen to Jedward, i’d more than likely feel a bit guilty if it did - it’s just split second annoyance coming out in a tweet and an effective way of getting your point across of how you think of someone in only 140 characters.
Nine times out of ten the tweets like this that are sent are not even for the benefit of the recipient. Tweets like this are the equivalent of a peacock showing off its feathers... the person in question just wants to make their followers laugh, not to cause massive offence or for these things to come across as a threat. Dent also goes on to say...
“My teeth itch when people tweet me to tell me what i’m not allowed to say”
Again, very hypocritical. In one of Dent’s latest articles regarding The Apprentice, she writes “the candidates still haven’t sussed out how to not resemble delusional, chest-puffing buffoons” and she says that “people probably refer to Azhar as that knob at head office with the shonky Bluetooth headpiece who reckons he’s Gordon Gecko”. So within 1 article she has written horrible things about people she hasn’t ever met – sound familiar? I wonder how she would feel if Azhar tried to get her fired from her position at the Guardian... she'd probably be absolutely dumbfounded that her comments were taken seriously, the same as I am SURE Mufadel is today.
I understand people being upset by unnecessary abuse on Twitter. Terrorism needs to be taken seriously and so does harassment, bullying and general horribleness on Twitter, but I don’t think you can call Mufadel’s tweet that. I’d just call it stupid. Think of how much abuse Piers Morgan gets on Twitter – if he had to go through and get every abuser sacked, he wouldn’t have time to do anything else so he just ignores it. Especially in Dent’s case, you don’t write whatever you want in national papers and news columns and then run off and get someone fired for calling you an ugly abhorrent horse. Especially if you might look a bit like one...