Earlier last month it was revealed that Scotland Yard is investing £1.7million into a ‘Twitter Squad’ after numerous threatening and abusive Tweets had been sent to a whole range of people including MPs, activists, and others. Now abuse, offensive jokes, and threats have been on the internet since the beginning. People behind a screen will say worse things than they would in person because they can and almost none of it is serious. Many are trolls purposely looking for a rise out of people by pressing on weaknesses. The age old idiom “don’t feed the trolls” is more important than ever but when people keep taking it seriously it only spurs them on until the police feel the need to proactively hunt down social media behaviour they deem unacceptable.
Who judges what is and is not acceptable? Free speech is the right to offend, the right to be offended, the right to say what ever you want. If you are genuinely making a threat that can be deemed credible, inciting people to violence against others, or encouraging joining terrorist organisations; like Anjem Choudary. All other forms of speech are free to be made. Even the above needs to be proven beyond a doubt, which is why it took police so long convict Choudary.
Policing Twitter in such a proactive way is policing speech and attempting to police thought. By combing through social media in this way it no longer has to rely on people reporting “crimes” it can simply deem something wrong-think and punish. Peter Nunn was jailed for 18 weeks in 2014 for re-tweeting something, directed at an MP, deemed inappropriate by the thought-police. There was no sign he was going to act on what he was tweeting her, he just kept doing it. A barrage of abuse if you will. Twitter has a very useful button for things like this, it is called the Block button. In extreme cases there is even a Report User button. Why the MP did neither of these things shows their incompetence with the platform than Nunn’s inappropriate activity.
Offence is taken not given. Why? Because I cannot know what you find offensive. If I direct something at someone else in an attempt to offend it still that person’s choice to take offence. When they do there are plenty of actions to take without saying my speech, verbal or written, is inappropriate. What if someone shares an idea or opinion you find offensive, should that idea be deemed inappropriate? No. That is ridiculous. No on can police this fairly, no can judge fairly, hence why you have free speech. The individuals involved solve their differences through discussion there is no reason for the state to be snooping around like some sort of Stasi.
London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is in favour of the Scotland Yard Twitter Stasi because he wants to see more done to tackle hate crime. Now, violent acts against someone for race, sexuality, sex, etc should be prosecuted. That is obvious, it is a violation of the other persons right to personal physical safety. However, tackling the speech of others, or hate speech if you will, is a far more difficult thing to do. What is the difference between a purposely offensive joke and hate speech? There is intent of humour behind the joke, the hate speech is someone’s misguided opinion. The best way to show opinions to be poor is to talk, discuss, and debate them not criminalise them. Suppressing opinions does not make them disappear it just alienates those who have them from society and may very well make the opinion stronger. The open market place of ideas which free speech enables is the best arena for all ideas and opinions. Let racism be shown to be nonsense by argument rather than state intervention. Let sexism be shown to be nonsense by argument rather than state intervention. Preventing business from discriminating based on sex or race is good regulation but it isn’t regulation of someone’s speech. When those regulations are applied to the individual in the name of hate speech laws it is a unjust limit.
Defend free speech, especially for those you virulently disagree with.