Gonna go all topical today, because why not – and twitter’s 140 character limit is annoying me, which is rare.
You may or may not have heard about the new witch-hunt: a young man who goes by the alias of @Rileyy69 being arrested this morning.
This followed his abusive tweets to team GB diver Tom Daley last night after he and his partner unfortunately missed out on a medal in the synchronised diving.
He started by telling the diver he’d disappointed his dad. What wasn’t known to him at the time was that Daley’s father actually succumbed to a brain tumour last year – so, add insensitive to offensive there. Teenagers, eh?
However, such is the nature of Twitter - Daley’s sharing of this admittedly vitriolic stuff led to wider awareness of his behaviour and even a mention on Sky News! Mr. 69 was not pleased about this, to say the least, and his timeline turned into a rather sweary, threatening affair, apparently including a wish that Daley would drown in a pool. Could possibly be considered a death threat, though I haven’t seen the actual tweet and whether he threatened to do this himself – or if it was, rather a deathwish (neither of which are pleasant but I’m sure we agree a threat is much worse). [Edit: ok, it looks like a threat]
Now, the problems. Twitter rage has ended up with this kid being arrested. We don’t know exactly why, but apparently police have suggested it is directly related to tweets. Interesting, after we’ve celebrated a friend exonerated having also been arrested for a stupid tweet. Flayman, heavily involved in the joke trial campaign, knows what he thinks of it.
We’ve also found out that the kid has actually lost his mother recently. Not an excuse to go around shouting c***-laden abuse at people, but still. Probably not a fact to ignore. Also, how many other relevant details of his background are we missing? There’s also been speculation that his arrest may be for his own safety, following the gigantic backlash.
Is this right?
This is the question I am asking myself today. And many others are, too. We have some celebrities/comedians bemoaning the lack of Twitter responses to daily threats that are flung around – some have left (including Phil Jupitus) because of this behaviour. Surely if the site took complaints more seriously, the police wouldn’t need to be involved?
I’m never a fan of telling people to ‘shut up and take it’ when they’re being bullied/abused in whatever capacity – it’s basic human decency to refrain from such behaviour and where this is lacking, I think it’s fair to try to teach people a lesson – not allow them to silence their targets through intimidation.
Is it really a free speech issue? I don’t think so. No one has the human right to not be offended by anything, ever – though I’m hoping to do a looooong post around this idea soon, and the human decency element I mentioned before [Edit: and I did!]. We’ve got people arguing around this, the law and all sorts right now.
I think it’s a good thing to hold people to account when they are threatening violence. I do. We had the extended battle with one Montreal-based mentally ill individual, David Markuze (or Mabus, as some of you may know him). Years of internet-based largely unintelligible threats directed to various ‘skeptical’ individuals, and finally he was arrested and taken to begin treatment and care; something he was obviously lacking, that had allowed him to behave in such a way in the first place.
I think the hordes of people who shared his statements are, however, also to blame. You gave him publicity and spurred him on, would he have kept going without a news appearance and so much attention? Don’t feed the trolls, we call it. But is it the best policy*? Outrage can drive change for the better, but sometimes it can make things worse. Though again, I’m not excusing his behaviour.
I’m going for it, now.
While I do think holding individuals to account is a good thing to do in a civilised society if they are breaking the don’t-threaten-to-kill-people rule, why is it happening in this case – a clearly stupid, recently-bereaved, ill-mannered and insensitive teenager with a keyboard and a twitter account, threatening a minor and topical celebrity – but not others??
One thing about being a Woman On The Internet is that you are likely to come up against a lot of abuse, largely of a sexual nature, often violent, and plenty of people receive rape and death threats. Have any of these people been arrested? Sometimes individuals are threatened with the fact that the person knows their home address, or the identities/locations/movements of their loved ones.
Again, are these people held to account? *I would never tell those women to stop reporting incidents (though some seem to think that’s the more appropriate course of action) – the trolls who sit at home and think it’s acceptable to try to scare women into silence, because they don’t like them speaking their minds, should be the ones dealing with the consequences and do deserve exposure, ridicule, appropriate action. Sadly many people are too afraid or simply desensitised to do anything about it. Did I mention we’re supposed to live in a civilised society? (Star referring back to the earlier mention of not feeding the trolls; I don’t think it’s always the best policy).
Most importantly for me, why do we still keep hearing about women who have been murdered by their partners (current or ex), having previously informed the police that they feel unsafe or have been outright threatened? Why are they not being protected?
Where are the forces when people are genuinely afraid for their lives, and possibly those of others close to them? Did Daley really feel like this kid was going to come to London, hunt him down and manage to hold his head under the surface of the Olympic pool? I highly doubt it. Again, that doesn’t make it all fine to say disgusting things to people, but it’s the credibility of the threat – much like the twitter joke trial (Paul was never, ever going to bomb the airport, ffs) that is quite important if you’re going to start arresting people.
Domestic violence and extended trolling campaigns targeted at individuals are both serious issues that affect people severely, but seem largely ignored. It doesn’t make sense to me that people who are known to the target of the abuse (e.g. partners) seem to be considered less at risk. Or stalkers let off because well, they can’t be serious. What’s going on with this?
My cynical self is suspecting a few things wrong with this: the Olympics has already seen over 180 critical mass cyclists arrested for advancing on Olympic territory (stupid, and probably driven by a few especially stupid individuals, but heavy-handed tactics from the police again) and it’s a topical issue – Daley was watched by millions and has a spotlight on him. Most victims of abuse suffer in silence and are inconspicuous.
Daley’s a boy; we hear less about male victims of abuse online or in real life – I recently chatted with someone who was himself arrested after his mentally ill girlfriend had a session of hurling kitchen items at him. People make a lot of assumptions about situations, and abuse directed at women seems to be disproportionately expected and tolerated.
My worry is the kind of precedent this incident sets. It sits uncomfortably with me. Some more legal-savvy people have warned against making lots of statements about it – we do not know exactly what has gone on, we have likely only got part of the story here.
I’m waiting to see what happens, and I think that’s the right thing to do before making solid conclusions. It’s a springboard for a lot of debate, but can we reserve final judgment for now, please?
[Edit: further reading!
See also Index on Censorship on 'the thrill of active netizenship'. Further discussion on the Telegraph, but I don't think this is really a case of 'free speech outrage' just yet. Although here's Pandaemonium on why it is.
Edit again: Tom Daley parody account says what a lot of people are probably thinking, but I’d guess no prospects of success is just one of many things that drives people to lash out in the first place (largely true in my experience, anyway).