Yesterday on Twitter someone publicly declared that I not only had no brains but no balls either. This remark went to the very heart of my male pride and cut me so deeply that I think I may face sleepless nights, the end of my sex drive and possibly the ruination of my entire career.
Or at least that’s what I’d tell the court were I of a vindictive disposition and minded to take revenge on my Twitter persecutor with one of those handy new, two-year sentences being proposed for “internet abuse” by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
What Grayling doesn’t seem to appreciate is that such a measure, if introduced, will open the floodgates for any number of vexatious lawsuits pursued by the burgeoning victim class in our grisly modern culture of professional offence-taking.
There are some people out there whose careers have been built almost entirely on the publicity and sisterly solidarity they have managed to glean by goading the more unhinged kind of male into saying hideous things about them on Twitter, then squealing about how hurt and threatened they have been made to feel. Do we really want to amplify the strident, self-important voices of these Social Justice Warrior harpies any more than they have been already?
This isn’t to defend the idiot blokes who make threats on Twitter; merely to note that if we really are to insist that more police and court time is to be wasted trying to track down and punish people who say horrid things on social media, then there will be unintended consequences which we may come to regret.
Indeed, we already have several examples of how things can go wrong.
One of the worst was the case of the Twitter joke trial of Paul Chambers, who lost his job and was fined by the court for a jokey Tweet he’d sent after snow had shut his local airport.
‘Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s*** together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!!’
Only after the case had been appealed to the High Court did our justice system finally see sense and admit what should have been perfectly obvious from the start: that the Tweet was just the kind of silly thing people say on Twitter all the time with no intention of being taken seriously.
Yet for far too long it suited the system to pretend otherwise. The police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the duty manager for security at Robin Hood Airport were indulged by the courts in their ludicrous claims that this poor man’s Tweet represented a credible threat. Never mind commonsense. Never mind Chambers’s career and livelihood. That tweet – or so the magistrate’s court which heard the case first decided – was “clearly threatening” and airport staff had been concerned about it, therefore a crime had been committed under the 2003 Communications Act, and a fine, costs and “victim surcharge” must be imposed.
Or take the case cited by Dominic Lawson in his excellent column this morning. In 2012 a teenager called Reece Messer was arrested at his bedsit and questioned for several hours by police who had tracked him down as the anonymous Tweeter who had been very rude about Tom Daley’s lacklustre diving performance in the London Olympic Games. Daley himself had not made a complaint. But someone had done so on his behalf – and apparently this was all the excuse the police needed for their ridiculous overreaction.
I would take to Twitter and describe precisely what I think should be done to the silly Grayling and his latest eye-catching initiative. But I fear, the way things are going, I might get myself arrested.