Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Policing the Internet

When the motorway system was developed in this country there were not, at first, central crash barriers or speed limits. My Dad took the family for a spin on the newly opened M1 (the excitement we had of driving to Watford Gap service station is hard to believe) and, seatbeltless, we did a ton in a Ford Zephyr (beyond belief).

Designers of motorways either had no idea how stupid people would be or simply didn't anticipate the problem of folk trying to do a U-turn with traffic coming in the opposite direction at 100mph. Amazingly, nobody noticed that travelling at 100 mph two feet from a piece of glass that may stop suddenly was a bit daft. Welcome seat belts, central reservations, air bags and crumple zones with gratitude to those who were scarred to make us realise we needed them.

This is about the internet folks. It's a new motorway. We have no idea what safety measures we will need to build in. In fifty years time we will look back with amazement at the way we travelled on it unprotected.

Two recent stories illustrate this.

Paul Chambers was found guilty of sending a 'menacing electronic communication.' His 'crime'? Back in January, frustrated at an airport being closed, he tweeted: 'Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a weekend and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing your airport sky-high!'

In a show of solidarity many tweeters have retweeted his message, in effect saying 'Fine me too.'

The problem with this conviction, and I hope Chambers gets off on appeal, is that in order to find the communication menacing, a judge had to be convinced that an average, reasonable person would be alarmed. And look at the tweet with its exclamation marks, its style and, of course, its lack of anonymity. Any reasonable person can see it's a joke and not alarming. Yes they can your honour. Not very funny, but that is not the point. Effectively Chambers was saying to his followers, probably mainly friends and acquaintances, that he was frustrated. No more; no less.

We seem to have another out-of-touch judge moment to put alongside 'Who is Gazza?' and 'Are the Beatles a popular beat combo?'

Offences committed within popular culture have to be judged within that culture. Judges often seem to come from elsewhere.

To our second story. I gather Bishop Pete Broadbent is now on gardening leave after an unfortunate republican rant on royal weddings. Catch up here. It may be true that the next royal wedding will have a short shelf life. It may not. The only decent test of prophecy is whether or not it comes true. Notwithstanding the fact that it is possible to wish a royal couple well in their marriage whilst hoping that one day we might become a republic, the Bishop's comments could, reasonably, have been expected to cause offence and he has had to apologise.

No policing or rules will ever stop this sort of thing happening. Only self-awareness and the understanding, repeat it and retweet it again and again until tired, that something put on the internet is there for everyone to see for ever. You may regret that. So might I.

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Spot-on - and on both counts: there is no hiding place on the 'net.
Regards to Brissle from a former resident/worker.