Let Twitter twits stew in their own juice | John Kampfner | Comment is free | The Guardian.
John Kampfner's linked article refers to trolls as "the green ink brigade." This made me smile. Before there was a 'net people used to communicate (sometimes maliciously) by analogue means. There were letters (like emails), postcards (like Facebook messages) and telegrams (like tweets). If you wanted to "blog", you could have pamphlets printed or write a letter to a newspaper. It was all terribly interactive in its way, but the interaction was tediously slow.
I had a letter published in The Times when I was 19 and every bit as handsome (If not quite as ripped) as a certain Olympic diver in the news. I was surprised over the following days to receive letters from mad people all over the world who had read it. In those simpler times, the papers printed enough of your address to let people write to you. Not all the letters I received were in green ink, but enough were to suggest a correlation between that colour and a lunatic desire to tell strangers you hate them. Hence "the green ink brigade."
I did not consider myself "harassed". I did not call the police. Had I done so, they would have told me to get lost. Had I persisted, they would have prosecuted me for wasting their time. Nor did I go to a copy shop and make copies to send to everyone in my (analogue) address book with a covering note whingeing about how unfair they were. Had I done so, I would not have expected my friends, family and other contacts to send them in turn to their friends. Still less would I have expected them to write to the mad people concerned in abusive terms.
I simply took the letters and (after giggling over them with my girlfriend) threw them in an analogue of the digital bin on my desktop. I was so little traumatised that I have never thought about them again until today.
Ah, but you say, those were olden times and everything is different now. You are right. Not only have electronic means made both fair and foul communications faster and easier, they have vastly enhanced the analogue trash can. Not only can I delete hate mail with a keystroke, I can also block the author from writing to me again. So useful and effective are these defensive technologies that I often wish they existed in meatspace. How wonderful to reach out and right click the pub bore to mute him.
My post yesterday provoked a debate on a reader's Facebook page, where I was dismissed as a witless reactionary for defending free speech. My antagonist applauded the arrest of said idiot and thought hate speech and threats of violence (however implausible from a pathetic, inarticulate little boy) should have criminal repercussions. Even as she agonised over what should, and should not, be permitted she failed to understand how her difficulties illustrated the futility of the exercise. How much simpler to insist on the absolute freedom of everyone to express their ideas, however obnoxious and ridiculous, and then get on with one's life.
Mr Daley received his abuse in a direct tweet to him. Only the abusive fool's foolish followers could read it at that point. He could have blocked the fool in less time than it took him to retweet him. He could then have continued to luxuriate in the warm bath of twittery idolatry that his looks and athletic talent have earned. Instead he chose to go to the cheap, easy and instant modern equivalent of the copy shop and post office so that his outraged idolaters could become an angry and abusive electronic mob and the Dorset Police could have their fifteen minutes of ill-deserved fame.
Christian blogger Cranmer is taking heat over his controversial suggestion that Daley should have turned the other cheek. He didn't even need to be so noble. Had he published his telephone number or address in the old days, he would have received fan mail/calls and hate mail/crank calls in about the same proportions (if not the same numbers, because of the cost of paper, envelopes, stamps and phone calls) as he received gooey/abusive tweets. The analogue versions would have been far harder to deal with. By setting up a Twitter account he similarly invited communications, but at least he doesn't have to hire secretaries to sift through the mail bags or security guards to bar access to his home. He can just block the idiots and bask in the fanmail.
So why all the stupid laws? Why the waste of precious police time? Why the unnecessary expenditure on Crown Prosecutors who - to the precise extent they think about such matters - are plainly surplus to requirements? Why are we wasting the time of learned judges? And why oh why did Parliament think it clever to make "malicious communication" a crime punishable by six months imprisonment or a £5,000 fine? Have none of these people anything useful to do? If not, great. Let them get off the public payroll and spare the overburdened taxpayers all these costs.
Oh, and MP's? Before you get your coats, please repeal this stupid law.