Keeping a Sense of Proportion on Twitter

Two cases of humour on Twitter have brought a disproportionate response that Guido really can’t let pass without comment.

The first case is that of Paul Chambers, the 27-year-old man convicted of “menace” following a Twitter joke about blowing up an airport – “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!” He has lost his appeal.

Not a very good joke, but not one in context that deserves a full blown trial. Then we have Tory councillor Gareth Compton arrested and charged for an offence under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for what Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says is racially motivated incitement to murder.

Not very funny, more a jest in exasperation at something ridiculous she has said on a radio show. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is exasperating, she has built her whole career as a columnist on being as exasperating as a slightly dotty outspoken aunt who you can’t get to shut-up. Guido would also bet that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, as an outspoken high profile muslim woman,  is on the receiving end of a lot of unpleasant racial abuse to which she has probably become acutely sensitised and is fed up with. Is this tweet, in context, really of that order?

Everyone who has any public profile gets abuse and threats. Nutters, particularly online, are ten-a-penny and Twitter gives nutters a direct feedback channel for abuse (for the last few days student trots have being giving Guido the benefit of their badly spelt views). It is the price you pay for a public profile, particularly online.

Guido has only referred threats to the police when they have been of the “we know where your kids go to school” kind. Straightforward abuse on Twitter justs gets the tweeter blocked, abusive emails just get the sender added to the spam filter.  No doubt Guido could have plenty of antagonists charged under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Twitter, blogs and email provide easy written evidence. There is one obsessive in Guildford who occupies megabytes of hard-drive storage with abusive profane voicemails, emails and libels, another in Hull who regularly blogs about Guido’s supposed National Front past. Distressing? Actionable? Life is just too short to drag them all through the Courts Yasmin.


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