Reasonable force?

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.

Whataboutery

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?

Speculations

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.

More recently, Graham Linehan has put some of his thoughts down. In slight contrast, a more sweary and blunt take from vice.com. All worth reading.]

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).

9 Responses to “Reasonable force?”

  1. Paddy Says:

    Good point well argued. Judgement duly being reserved here.

  2. Jethro Says:

    I slept through the whole thing and was only awake for the unhappy comments in the aftermath of it, but this cleared up a fair bit for me. I’ve had really mixed (developing) opinions on this sort of thing as of late, because I’m never really sure about whether or not some behaviour (abusive tweets such as his, for example) should be acceptable as more of a free speech thing. That said, I suppose it would never have been a big deal at all if it hadn’t been tweeted directly at him (and subsequently retweeted).

    I’m also mixed on the threat thing, too. I haven’t seen the actual tweet about drowning Tom or anything, but perhaps it shouldn’t be a legal issue considering how unlikely it is that he’ll somehow be in a position to do anything of the sort. Maybe it’d be something for Twitter to sort out themselves.

    This is a crap comment, but I’m still in bed and I’m terrible at structuring my writing anyway. xD Thanks for the awesome post~

  3. nskeptic Says:

    Why don’t we wait until more facts emerge, before forming an opinion?

    That’s not just aimed at you, goes for almost everyone, but honestly, any opinion formed at this stage, is an ill-informed one, I’m sorry.

  4. noodlemaz Says:

    I think the thing is, and it’s an ongoing issue not restricted to this case, it’s so easy to instantly share your thoughts with the world now. Obviously, I think in general that is a great thing – I bloody love Twitter.

    However, we keep seeing cases of people saying things they really shouldn’t in the heat of the moment. The internet makes that possible – it’s not that it happens now more than ever, people do this in person all the time. As Ben Goldacre just said; this is all no worse than what gets hurled around by drunkards in pubs on a Friday night, but the police want no part of that, generally. It’s everywhere in “meatspace”, as he put it (and so it is on the internet, but it’s not always high profile – going back to my sustained abuse point) .

    And I think that comes back to intent. Were you just typing away in a little rage, oblivious to what your ‘send’ click would cause later on, or were you genuinely trying to hurt and scare people? I see a lot of ill-considered comments online, just as you can hear them in normal conversation. This might be another case of the law being unfit to deal with internet situations – but it seems like lots of us still don’t know how to process all of this, and it’ll probably take time to work it out.

  5. Sid Rodrigues (@SidRodrigues) Says:

    I think this is really a call for whoever is being abused, whether they feel threatened or bullied – either realistically or not – is where the argument really lies. If an anonymous person posted death threats to me or a friend, I’d have to assess it and take what I thought was reasonable action; for mine or their safety.

    There were several ways this could have concluded.
    1) Person blocks them on Twitter – they don’t see the offending articles.
    2) Ask a friend/colleague or professional if this person needs help/reporting and who to.
    3) Ask the police to intervene if necessary.

    This has happened already with Dennis Markuze. I doubt he would have travelled all the way to the UK to follow out his threats, but it was escalating and people were in places much closer to home. You couldn’t block him or know where he was going to turn up. Doing nothing would have been the wrong thing to do in that case.

    I imagine anyone in the public sphere gets a lot of unwanted attention – along with the affection – but there must be a line drawn somewhere.

    If anything, being arrested isn’t really an issue, it’s being charged with an offence that sets the precedence. In most cases the police only follow up threats on Twitter and the person is cautioned (if even that) and released. If a case goes ahead that will be down to the complainant if they think it’s best to press charges.

  6. NoMePices Says:

    I agree it’s an outrage how much abuse and harassment women get online but I don’t accept that Tom can’t have felt truely threatened. I’m old enough to remember the Monica Seles stabbing which showed how vulnerable sports people can be. People in the public eye like Tom have to come into close contact with hundreds more people that are strangers than us non celebrities. They also have itineraries that are very public and are easier to stalk down. The death threats made would truely scare me if I was in his position, a lot more than if made to me as an anonimous member of the masses.


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