At first blush, Twitter is one of those social networking sites specifically designed for Twits, and by all accounts, living up to their name. They use the site to leave offensive messages which in any other medium would be illegal, and in some cases criminal, yet they seem to think they have carte blanche to write what they like. They are restricted to 140 words, but that doesn’t stop them from purveying their prejudices in spades.
Twitter seems to exercise very little control over their users or the content of their messages. They argue that they don’t have the time (or inclination) to monitor daily use, which on an average day can reach several thousand, if not more. But the argument that they cannot slay the monster they have created is a feeble excuse in the great scheme of things.
There are times when enough is enough, and the strong arm of the law is brought to bear on some of these Twits. One in particular is Paul Chambers, who found himself in court and convicted under the Communications Act 2003. In his Tweet, he threatened to blow his local airport sky high if they didn’t get their act together, and he is awaiting the outcome of his appeal even as I write.
His appeal has been taken up by Al Murray, a fairly robust comedian, and Stephen Fry, who is…er…Stephen Fry, known to many without really knowing why. With friends like these, who needs enemies, as the expression goes.
I also wonder how these offensive tweets are discovered. Is there some poor news hound in a back office in Wapping, who is given the luckless task of trawling through Tweets to find something worth publishing?
Al Murray has written an impassioned article railing against the legal system and invoking the Magna Carta and freedom of speech. According to the robust Murray, the offensive tweet is akin to “pub banter”, but that cut no ice with the court that convicted Chambers. The law is the law. If you commit yourself to print, whether on a blog, a Tweet, or a website, where it can be found, then you have nobody but yourself to blame when the shit hits the fan.
It may well be that Paul Chambers didn’t mean a word of what he tweeted, and his conviction has all the hallmarks of overkill. He may win his appeal, but there is a salutary lesson to be learned by all Twits. Keep your opinions to yourself if they are likely to cause offence.
However, I am persuaded by my daughter Sarah that when used responsibly, Tweets are a good way of communicating with a wider readership and generating a meaningful dialogue. There are times when Sarah shows wisdom beyond her years, so I’m going to immerse myself in the heady waters of Twittering, and I will report back on my experiences. Who knows, it may not be too late to teach an old dog new tricks, so watch this space, and if you get a Tweet from me, be surprised and delighted in equal measure.