Just when you thought things couldn’t get any sillier on twitter with the conviction of Paul Chambers for “menace” after he tweeted about blowing up an airport with the clearly jocular:
“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!”
Yet more ludicrous charges for thought crime have been dragged up by the Police against a Conservative councillor. It seems that Gareth Compton a councillor for Birmingham has been arrested by the police after posting a series of reactions to a broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live by controversial columnist and all-round-irritant Yasmin Alibhai Brown. Mr Compton would appear to have said:
“Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really. #R5L”
Now, let me just make quite clear before I go any further that what follows is commentary: Yasmin Alibhai Brown is, in my eyes, a first class irritant. A commentator so pointless and facile that I’d rather hurl myself out of a second story window than sit through her rants on Any Questions or whatever else she might pop up on; but I don’t wish that Ms. Alibhai-Brown be stoned to death – nor would I encourage others to act on the tweet. Ok? There, that should cover off the thought-crime police, now we can continue…
So. It was a stupid thing to say: imbecilic indeed – especially if you’re a posting in a public broadcast space, doubly so if you’re a politician, and absolutely if you’re on the right talking about a high profile minority woman on the left with a set of lungs on her.
But, really – it clearly wasn’t calling for her to be actually stoned to death, she’s a public figure – she should have a thicker skin: believe me, as someone that’s dealt with cases of prolonged stalking and threatening behavior, there is a time and a place to call the police, but this clearly wasn’t it… It wasn’t even close.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that we’re talking about Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a woman who holds some pretty polarized views herself, she’s certainly not been afraid to dole out tongue-lashings for individuals and institutions over the years, so surely she must know that she’ll occasionally be a target of vicious language herself?
It’s simply a common expression of speech that sees people wishing “death” on each other, most often said in an entirely flippant throw-away fashion. Whether it be the surly teenage ‘drop dead’ or the theatrical sighs of exasperation willing the lord to smite whoever is gracing the One Show’s sofa with lightning, pestilence and locusts that almost everyone I know has performed to one degree or another from time to time. It’s flippant, it’s forgotten almost as soon as it’s said and all it’s doing is acting as a micro-valve to express dissatisfaction, disagreement or disillusionment.
I’m very concerned that the long arm of the law is insidiously extending into people’s opinions online. It’s a dangerous precedent: just think how long it might be before any joke or satire is considered threatening, just where would you draw the line? If he’d said he wished an asteroid to land on her head, would that have still had the police rushing to his door? Let’s face it Mr Compton’s stones, baying mob, and yasmin in a hole awaiting her fate are deadly but, just like my asteroid, clearly imaginary and highly unlikely.
This is a matter of thick vs thin skin – it feels awfully like short term political point scoring – how many times has Mrs Thatcher been ‘killed’ in commentaries ranging from TV satire to bloggers young enough to have not even been sparkles in their fathers’ eyes online? It must be hundreds, and if we add in posts on message boards, IRC, twitter, facebook, social websites and political forums it’ll add up to hundreds of thousands. Did the police swoop in on all of them? Is Maggie furiously calling the police demanding they round up the culprits with all the lightness of touch of a falling anvil? No. Of course she isn’t.
There is a time and a place for involving the authorities – when your safety is genuinely threatened yes, when you’re a little hurt by a comment online… No. I hope the complaint against Gareth Compton will be dropped – I hope he learns from this that Twitter is a public forum, but I have a horrible feeling this will end in resignations and more wasting of taxpayers money while the CPS drag someone in front of a judge for what amounts to thought crime.
I’ll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops, in the meantime I’ll be awaiting my asteroid with glee.