November 12th, 2010 by Lloyd Gofton
Putting issues of bomb threats to one side for the moment, and our country’s obsession with coming down hard on anything remotely related to the subject, especially in relation to aircraft and airports, even if it is clearly a joke, I wanted to pick up on a great article by Milo Yiannopoulos at The Telegraph today who beautifully overviews the issue between our judicial system, which is dramatically out of touch with the social web, or even the pre-social web for that matter.
I have a small insight into the clash between how we lead our online lives, and how our legal system interprets that, as my wife is a solicitor. From my own personal experience, I am constantly amazed by the antiquated systems and processes she has to follow in accordance with our legal system, and she works for a relatively progressive and modern firm. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and in general our solicitors have a good grasp of what is taking place online, but the system they work under does not.
The system and its understanding is one problem, our obsession as a country with security and the removal of our natural sense of humour in relation to such matters is another, but in my opinion it’s the double standards that annoy even more.
Let’s take the case of our Twitter joker. Yes, it was probably not the best thing to do in light of recent cases where even obvious jokes have resulted in dramatic action, but let’s be honest, this was never a threat, and should we all need to be that careful? Some might argue that the hard stance is to attempt to cut out such instances of joking about serious matters, but that’s really not going to happen. If you look at our social history we have faced most of the major threats to this country with humour, is that going to change now?
The reality is, if you look at the content available on the web, there are many more real examples of threats and dangerous content. So, why take action against the citizens who may have joked about something that is undoubtedly serious, but pose no real threat, and not these other examples?
The reality for Paul Chambers, the 26-year-old accountant who has lost two jobs as a result of his Twitter joke, is he has lost his appeal and will have to pay a Â£1,000 fine, around Â£2,000 in costs and he will have a criminal record for threatening, in jest, to blow up an airport.
If I look at my Twitter feed now, I can see a range of what could be construed as threats if we are working on the Paul Chambers example. Should these people be arrested and charged? Should I stop following them as a result? Or should we all get some perspective here and put our legal energies into dealing with the real threats and not those that are clearly written in jest.
Furthermore, if you search for the #IAmSpartacus hashtag in Twitter now, you’ll see the number of people who feel this joke has gone too far by re-issuing the so called threat that Paul Chambers tweeted, in support of him.
The scary thing is, as the number of people who utilise social media in its various guises expands, the likelihood of similar cases also expands. So, while I don’t expect anything to change quickly in our legal system, we’re likely to see more unfortunate examples such as this. Furthermore, if you don’t understand the social web, #IAmSpartacus is about to become its latest case study.