I’m in the habit of writing tweets that never get read.
That’s not because I have 0 followers, but because I’ll write a tweet, stare at it and think “do I really want to say this?”. Quite a lot of the time the answer is “no way” and the “tweet” button will never be pressed.
I don’t mean to make out that I’m wonderfully controlled and am always really careful what I say on Twitter. Sadly that’s not true. I’m a work in progress in all areas of my life, including this one.
Nevertheless, three recent stories in the media have really made me think.
1. The first was the case of Liam Stacey who has been sentenced to 56 days in prison after he made racist comments on Twitter.
The tweet in question? “LOL. F*** Muamba. He’s dead!!! #haha”, presumably without the stars.
2. The second story broke about this time last night. Mrs Speaker tweeted she was tempted to try the drug Mexxi before it’s made illegal.
“Am I the only one now slightly tempted to try mexxy before it becomes illegal? I won’t, obvs”. Her comments came just days after the drug has been linked to the death of at least two people, leading to her being labelled “insensitive”. I found both the Daily Mail‘s Headline “Will She Ever Learn?” and Mrs Speaker terming the paper the “Daily Fail” pretty amusing.
3. Finally, according to Reuters, Kuwaiti authorities arrested a man on Tuesday for insulting Mohammed over Twitter.
That’s three stories about Twitter in one week. Oh wait, I’m wrong. The biggest story about Twitter this week is that the company has admitted there’s a bug going around that will make your account unfollow people randomly, without your permission (thus providing all of us with a wonderful excuse the next time someone asks why you’re not following them).
Presumably the legislature that allowed Liam and the Kuwaiti man to be arrested applies to Facebook too, and, come to think of it…this blog. I’m hardly the most controversial of bloggers, but it’s still a scary thought that what I write here could get me arrested.
I would not defend any of the above tweets. But I would question if arresting people for what they say on Twitter is fair. It’s a grey area.
Some would argue that just as someone walking up to me in the street and hurling racist language warrants arrest, the same rules should apply in the online world.
On the other hand, millions of views are expressed on Twitter every minute. Fanatic and offensive views aren’t normally read by thousands. And if they are, a large percentage of those thousands will write back and give the tweeter plenty of grief!
This happens all the time with celebrities. Let’s say I tweet that Dom Joly is the least funny person on the planet. He’ll retweet my message, sending it to his 133,000 followers. 10,000 of those followers will then hurl abuse at me in turn. It’s basically Karma. And it’s beautiful.
So which of these two philosophies on Twitter and free speech is best? I err on the side of the latter, but I’m open to persuasion either way. I look forward to reading your comments and watching the wider debate grow. I think this is an issue that will run and run as time goes on…