I’m not a man who’s into sport. Ever since my father took me to a Manchester City football game at the age of five and threw me violently over his head when they scored, I’ve always seen competitive physical activity as ‘not for me’.
However, it’s impossible to ignore the Olympics right now and it’s not just because of the BBC’s breathless coverage of every element or NBC’s wonderfully Victorian approach to lesbian kissing (‘if we can’t see it, it’s not happening’). Unfortunately, it’s because the Games has already been marred by a Twitterstorm over a young man – @Rileyy_69, a 17-year-old child – being a dick.
Apologies for putting it so bluntly (and if that offends you, sorry about what’s coming) but he is. He seems to be a deeply unpleasant person who’d get banned from the Daily Mail’s website for being too bigoted and who inadvertently made a strong argument Monday night for the implementation of an IQ test in order to access social media.
Tom Daley and Pete Does-it-matter came fourth in the sychronised diving and the UK was understandably upset we’d missed out on any medals. Having just expressed frustration at his performance and optimism for the individual stages, Daley then retweeted @Rileyy_69′s response to this with ‘after giving it my all…you get idiot’s [sic] sending me this…’.[pullquote_left]Sometimes it takes just one prick to burst your bubble[/pullquote_left]I’m not going to repeat what was said to Tom, but suffice to say it was insensitive and hurtful and I can completely understand why it upset him. Tom became a supporter of Childline at 13 and revealed at the time he’d been bullied; as a man who also suffered bullying at this age, I’m in the unenviable position of being able to confirm that the memories of it don’t just go away. Sometimes it takes just one prick to burst your bubble.
Inevitably, people flocked to Daley’s support and, as anyone with two brain cells to rub together could have predicted, a number of them sent @Rileyy_69 their own flavour of abuse. Judging from @Rileyy_69′s Twitter feed, he panicked at this barrage of angry tweeters and proceeded to apologise to Daley, then threaten to drown him, then tell Sky News he was reporting them for harassment. Alternative sources confirmed the local police force was investigating and, barely twelve hours later, it was announced a 17 year-old had been arrested for the tweets. Which is where it gets dodgy.[pullquote_right]I also don’t agree someone should be punished for expressing their opinions, especially by the state[/pullquote_right]I don’t agree with @Rileyy_69′s opinions on Tom Daley’s performance. I don’t agree with his vicious attitude towards criticism. I particularly don’t agree with how physically attractive he believes he is. But I also don’t agree someone should be punished for expressing their opinions, especially by the state.
Twitter is currently a confusing beast to anyone who doesn’t use it, and even to most of the people who do. For some people it’s a way of hearing news right as it happens, while some people post endless Daily Mail articles – because what would Twitter be without apoplexy at the DM? – and still others slavishly contribute to every hashtag game and vaguely offensive trending topic. While almost everyone keeps their various social networking sites under lock and key, Twitter is still an almost completely open book in terms of communicated opinion, and this has recently begun backfiring enormously for some tweeters.[pullquote_left]It’s becoming more and more apparent the law has no idea how to treat Twitter[/pullquote_left]Between the Robin Hood airport #Twitterjoketrial, the racist rantings over Muamba’s on-pitch collapse and the ongoing attempted alienation of ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE by Steve Brookstein, it’s becoming more and more apparent the law has no idea how to treat Twitter. We appear to be in a situation where, if there’s enough of a furore from Twitter itself, the police believe someone somewhere must need to be punished, and so off they pop to track down whoever’s responsible for this breach of the Internet peace. [pullquote_right]Is it viable to punish every person who’s sent a death threat over Twitter? Nope.[/pullquote_right]It needs to be decided – and quickly – whether we’re all alright with defining free speech as ‘anything that doesn’t upset enough people’, because that’s where we seem to be going. We all know last night will not have been the first time Tom Daley has received abuse on Twitter; I’d be surprised if it’s the first death threat he’s received either. Do you want to know who else has received death threats on Twitter ? Alexandra Burke, Grant Gustin, Steve Blake, Kristen Stewart, Shirley Manson, Selena Gomez and Zayn Malik’s girlfriend. That’s from the first two pages of over 100million results when you type ‘Twitter death threat’ into Google. Is this right? No. Is it viable to punish every person who’s sent a death threat over Twitter? Nope. I follow people – normal people, as well, not celebrities – who’ve received death threats from neanderthals with Internet access after expressing a view not universally liked. Were they upset by these? I think so. Has anyone been prosecuted for it? Not the last time I checked. [pullquote_left]If Twitter is going to remain a place for freedom of expression, it’s important to self-regulate it[/pullquote_left]It’s the Internet. As Tim Berners-Lee tweeted at the Olympic Opening Ceremony (okay, so maybe I watched a bit of the Olympics), ‘This Is For Everybody’. Much as we may try to ignore it, ‘everybody’ includes people like Westboro Baptist Church, Chris Brown and people who still watch Big Brother. Those kids who used to pass notes saying ‘poofter’ and ‘paki’ at school can now send these same sentiments electronically, so long as they’re 140 characters or less, and very few of these instances are ever going to result in legal proceedings. If you’re offended by something on Twitter, block and report the offending party. If Twitter is going to remain a place for freedom of expression, it’s important to self-regulate it rather than rely on the authorities. Remember, what we’re all doing with DailyMail.com where we don’t give them traffic? Same principle applies.
@Rileyy_69 didn’t think about what he was tweeting because I doubt he’s ever really thought in his life. While ignorance is no excuse, this kid was never going to truly follow through on any of the ‘death threats’ he made that evening. I am pleased he was released with just a warning, and the argument can be made that perhaps he was only ever arrested in order to ‘scare him straight’. However, I still believe the police should never have been involved. The duty to regulate offensive language like this should first fall to individuals on Twitter and then to Twitter as a body, and no-one else. If we can’t grow up enough to be able to do that, then we’re going to get all our fun toys taken away.[pullquote_right]@Rileyy_69 didn’t think about what he was tweeting because I doubt he’s ever really thought in his life[/pullquote_right]Simply put, we’re all likely to offend someone at some point. I doubt too many of us spend much time wandering around the World Wide Web handing out impotent death threats, but it’s easier than you think to inadvertently just drop a Prince Phillip because we didn’t make ourselves clear enough. There are so many different people in the world that the law of averages dictates someone somewhere will find what you considered a pithy reaction to a world event to be a violently misogynistic, racist and homophobic slur. We as people (on Twitter, especially) need to take ‘being offended’ into our own hands and recognise, since offence is often a very personal thing, that perhaps we should deal with the opinion expressed personally.
Follow Danny Baxandall on Twitter: @baxfail