The speed with which social media sites such as Facebook and twitter have caught on in recent years is astonishing. And as these sites become used by more and more people – and become more prominent in daily life – another interesting and, some say, worrying trend has increased also. This is the repercussions and the ramifications that come about following people’s inappropriate tweets. There have been a number of cases of this in recent months.
Some of the most high-profile were very serious cases of racist abuse. A student who tweeted racist tweets about Fabrice Muamba, just after Muamba collapsed during a football match, was jailed for 56 days. A similar case involved another student who was arrested after sending racist tweets to Stan Collimore. In this case, the student got off without jail time.
There is nothing strange in itself in either of these cases. There are very few that would argue with the arrest and conviction of someone who racially abuses another person. However, other cases are not so clear-cut. For instance, a man in England was found guilty of sending a “grossly offensive and menacing tweet” when he called a local councillor a “c**t” in a tweet. Having been found guilty of this, he could face up to six months in jail. Some on Twitter see this as having serious implications for freedom of speech. He has been supported in large numbers on Twitter, where the hashtag #freethebexleyone became a trending topic.
Then there was the case of the man who tweeted the following about Robin Hood Airport in England: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” He was arrested and his iPhone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated during a search of his house. A month later, he was found guilty of “sending a menacing message” and ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and legal costs. He received many messages of support from fellow tweeters, with some famous names, such as Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, offering to help with his costs.
And probably the most controversial recent tweet was the tweet about TV pundit, Grace Dent, that compared her to a horse. Dent is a client of the PR company the tweeter worked for and in her twitter reply to him, she intimated that he would lose his job over the tweet.
None of this is to in any way mitigate the offensive and – in many cases, racist and sexist – language that was used in these tweets. Any kind of abusive or – as it was rightly labelled – bullying language used in tweets should be roundly condemned. It does, however, raise some interesting questions. There are many walks of life in which such bad language is used. How many of us have seen drivers cut off by another car shout similar abusive language? How many of us have seen parents shout abusive language at referees at the side of a pitch? Or have heard some of the taunts and abusive language used in and out of pubs on an average Saturday night? But these people would never be arrested (unless they were physically abusive).
As I said at the beginning, there are those who see this as a worrying trend. By all means, anyone who engages in racist abuse should be punished, but how far does society take this issue of online abuse? Is it only if someone engages in using “offensive” language? And how do we define “offensive language”? I’ve seen some major bust-ups on Twitter that – if we were to go by these guidelines – would have landed both parties in jail!
What do you think? I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this issue.
(Image: Click the pic for credits)
If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to the blog by entering your email address in the box on the left hand sidebar. Thanks!