Arrested For A Mean Tweet?

If this is all the relevant information, this English arrest seems unjust to me:

After coming fourth in the men’s synchronised 10m platform diving event on Monday, the 18-year-old from Plymouth received a message telling him he had let down his father, Rob.

Rob Daley died in May 2011 from brain cancer.

A 17-year-old boy was arrested at a guest house in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications.

Dorset Police said they acted after being contacted by a member of the public at about 22:30 BST on Monday.

A spokesman was unable to confirm whether the arrest was specifically over the tweets to Daley or subsequent Twitter conversations with other users.

The boy eventually apologized. He should not have been so cruel of course. But cruel words that do not cross the line into threatening or debilitating others should be dealt with with private measures according to the rules of private groups and informal moral sanctions from others.  The police should not be involved.

———————————-

Edit at 1:08pm: The Guardian has more details which make the issue more complicated. Trigger warning, it contains threats of violence and some of the language is very harsh and upsetting. Do you think the following threats and harassment rises to the level that arrests should be made?

“@TomDaley1994 I’m sorry mate i just wanted you to win cause its the olympics I’m just annoyed we didn’t win I’m sorry tom accept my apology.”

He added: “please i don’t want to be hated I’m just sorry you didn’t win i was rooting for you pal to do britain all proud just so upset.”

Later another tweet to Daley read: “i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick”.

Tweets to other users who criticised his earlier message were spiked with profanity. One read: “i dont give a shit bruv i’m gonna drown him and i’m gonna shoot you he failed why you suporting him you cunt” and another, to a different Twitter user, read: “do you want me to come to your fucking house now with a rope and strangle you with it”.

Read more. Thanks to Ze Madmax for calling this to my attention. Future readers, remember the first comments on this post were by people not yet apprised of this information about the content of later tweets.

Update: 1:22pm:

AsqJames reports firsthand observation of the tweets, in the comments section of my post:

When I looked at his tweets last night there were several explicit threats to identified (by their tweet name) individuals (who I assume had taken him to task over the “you let your dad down” tweet). The threats were violent and in some cases threatened death (e.g. something about hiring a shotgun and coming round to blow someone’s head off).

At times he seemed to veer wildly between apologies (to Tom Daley and others for previous tweets/threats) and further threats and/or foul abuse when those apologies were not immediately accepted, followed by further apologies and appeals for forgiveness.

Based on what I read I suspect he’s more messed up than anything else (but then what do I know?). On the other hand if it had been me he was sending death threats to I’d certainly want the police to check him out and at least let him know that doing so was against the law.

Your Thoughts? (And please be honestly critical, without being malicious to each other or to the parties discussed.)

 

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Dunc

    But it’s the Olympics! Mere trivia like the rule of law and proportionate policing be damned!

    I don’t believe for an instant that this would have been taken nearly as seriously if it didn’t involve an Olympic athlete.

    • Artor

      The guy who made a much more innocuous tweet just got acquitted after a year-long ordeal with the British court system. It doesn’t take much to provoke a rabid legal system.

  • http://GatwickCityofIdeas Richard W. Symonds

    This police action here in the UK could never happen in the US, could it?

    First Amendment under the constitution ?

    A very dangerous precedent is being set…

    No-one is safe – especially bloggers & twitters…

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      But what if your father had died and someone rubbed it in your face? Wouldn’t you love for armed goons to drag that person from their home…?

      I don’t want to comment too seriously on this, because I don’t know the whole story either. As a matter of principle, though, I think it’s always wrong to involve the authorities when it comes to online communications, even threats. Make all the fuss you want about threats (and I know people do), anyone who will actually kill you won’t warn you or leave an electronic trail. They’re threatening you online because they’re cowards, and if you waste your time and energy worrying about it, you’ve let them succeed.

      It’s not about feeling invincible, either. It’s about realizing that if you live in a free society, many people will have the means of killing you, no matter how paranoid you are, no matter how many guns you own, no matter how many times you call the police in a panic. If someone wants you dead, you’ll probably die and you’ll have no control over it.

      [MODERATOR'S EDIT: TRIGGER WARNING, DISCUSSION OF RAPE AND CANNIBALISM THREATS AHEAD]

      You might as well just relax and enjoy your life rather than worrying about whether every bored asshole who comes across your blog is actually out to kill you, rape you, then eat your corpse (which has been my favorite threat I’ve received so far; I like knowing that even after I die, my body might be put to good use, though I’d rather it be donated to science or used for organ donations).

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    We should use caution, since in a lot of stories like this it often turns out there is something “else” that led to the arrest, and that we have been misled. That said, it would not terrible surprise me that this could have happened in the UK, where there are some damaging and draconian (albeit well-intentioned*) laws restricting speech. After all, this is the country that just now finally acquitted the Heathrow bomb tweet guy, who was just obviously making a joke; it is the country where Simon Singh was prosecuted for saying that homeopathy was a scam. There is no First Amendment in the United Kingdom, and so far the courts and legislature have seemed as though they are willing to go pretty far in restricting speech.

    * It’s interesting to look at the consequences of these speech restrictions in the UK, since all of the restrictions are well-intentioned, and often (as in this case) the prosecutions are in relation to speech which is actually undesirable. This is not like some dictatorship where the state is restricting legitimate criticism, or a theocracy where people are arrested for saying god doesn’t exist. It is a modern state where generally the restrictions on speech are along the lines of an overreaction to something that legitimately ought not to have been said.

    The reason I say it’s interesting is because we still see undesirable consequences (e.g. the Singh affair, disproportionate punishments like the Heathrow bomb tweet guy, etc.) It is a reminder that we don’t protect bad speech merely because it is problematic to have the gov’t discriminate between good and bad speech (though that is sufficient reason for the First Amendment right there). It’s also because restricting even bad speech has unintended and problematic consequences.

    • Dunc

      it is the country where Simon Singh was prosecuted for saying that homeopathy was a scam

      No, Simon Singh was sued for saying that homeopathy is a scam. There is a very large and important difference.

    • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

      @Dunc I think the large difference was a couple of hundred thousand pounds!

    • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

      Thanks for the correction, I knew that of course but somehow managed to get it wrong. Yes, you are correct, the difference is extremely important.

      I think my general point stands — about the UK being fairly unfriendly to “bad” speech — but it’s an important distinction to make.

    • F

      Correction correction:

      Chiropractic.

  • http://GatwickCityofIdeas Richard W. Symonds

    So, if I say “Bankers are Wankers”, will the “Banking Thought Police” come knocking at my door ?

  • left0ver1under

    In a similar but unrelated story, writer Guy Adams of The Independent was very critical of NBC’s horrible “coverage”.

    Adams’ twitter account was closed down because he allegedly “posted someone’s private information”, supposedly violating twitter’s TOS. What he actually posted was the email address of Gary Zenkel, president of NBC’s olympics programming.

    Gary.zenkel@nbcuni.com

    That’s not “private” info, it can be found on NBC’s own website. It reeks of an attempt to silence criticism, not an “invasion of privacy”.

    On every site I’ve seen, the same is said: NBC’s programming sucks, the same as the last olympics, the one before that, and the one before that. As the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

  • calgor

    The UK has about 24 laws relating to computers and communications and what you can and cannot do with them, dont have the full list at hand (and I am not going to search for them, i am on holiday…) but during my training in IT security the instructor had fun explaining the weird consequences of them.

    One of my personal favorites was that there is a list of unacceptable words for communication – originally intended for telegrams, but still on the books and due to the wording of the law, remains applicable to phone texts and email (presume they will also apply to tweets). The reason that I remember this one was that the list is related to words that UK MPs can use to insult each other in Parliment…

  • AsqJames

    That is certainly not all of the relevant information.

    When I looked at his tweets last night there were several explicit threats to identified (by their tweet name) individuals (who I assume had taken him to task over the “you let your dad down” tweet). The threats were violent and in some cases threatened death (e.g. something about hiring a shotgun and coming round to blow someone’s head off).

    At times he seemed to veer wildly between apologies (to Tom Daley and others for previous tweets/threats) and further threats and/or foul abuse when those apologies were not immediately accepted, followed by further apologies and appeals for forgiveness.

    Based on what I read I suspect he’s more messed up than anything else (but then what do I know?). On the other hand if it had been me he was sending death threats to I’d certainly want the police to check him out and at least let him know that doing so was against the law.

  • Ze Madmax

    The BBC article misses another tweet that probably had a bigger impact on the arrest:

    From The Guardian:

    Later another tweet to Daley read: “i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick”.

    Enough for an arrest though? I’m not so sure. Still amazes me how people seem oblivious about how posting things on the Internet works.

  • calgor

    Sorry for the disjoint… I was going to add that there is one UK law which is explicit about sending comms which are intended to cause distress to the recipient either directly or as an additional effect.

    There is a get out clause which exempt certain situations (bill reminders is the one that sticks in the mind) but from the tweets that were posted and I have seen, they were designed to be offensive. If the sender has issues then its good that they are checked before the situation has the potential to escalate.

    If the sender is stupid… I do believe that there is a possible prison sentence for this offence.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      If the sender is stupid… I do believe that there is a possible prison sentence for this offence.

      I am not sure what this is supposed to mean. If you mean to belittle people of less education or who regularly make intellectual mistakes, it is not welcome here.

    • calgor

      The use of stupid in this context is not intended to be a slur or derogatory to any group, and I intended no offence. Rather it was used to highlight someone doing something well below their own expected capability.

      Given that I have been picked up on this, suggests that this particular usage of stupid is restricted to my own ‘UK cultural’ area. An alternative descriptive term that I would have used is that the sender was acting as a ‘muppet’ suggesting that their actions were controlled by something coming from their posterior. But again I would like to point out that this is not intended to be a slur on Kermit and Co.

  • baal

    The news I head on it suggested that he targeting a large number of Olympians. If several complained to their coaches and it was brought up at a coaches meeting that there were a ton of threats or harassment, then it’s not unreasonable for the police to investigate. It’d be like being on the wrong side of Mabus. I’d need more facts to think arrest is needed.

  • Makoto

    Thank you for the update. I’m seeing posts about this all over the place, and so far about 90% of them only mention the tweet about the father, not the rest. To be fair, those tweets were later deleted, so it’s harder to see them if you just go to his account, but there are several sources that bring them up with pictures. It’s frustrating that the narrative has become “he was jailed for being mean on Twitter”, not “he is talking with the police because he threatened people with death and other harm over Twitter.. and also said mean things to an Olympic athlete first”

  • Nathair

    Do you think the following threats and harassment rises to the level that arrests should be made?

    i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick

    i’m gonna drown him and i’m gonna shoot you

    do you want me to come to your fucking house now with a rope and strangle you with it

    Yes, that sinks to the level that I think an arrest is justified. What’s the alternative? We wait and see if he does drown, shoot and/or strangle some people and then arrest him?

  • http://GatwickCityofIdeas Richard W. Symonds

    I understand a certain well-known US thinker & activist regularly receives death threats, libellous accusations & defamatory statements.

    If he went running to the police every time, he wouldn’t have time for much else.

    He ignores it – although he would make oodles of money winning libel & defamation cases.

    I’ve even received a death threat from someone on a certain well-known, extreme right-wing US website.

    Most people just get themselves over-excited, and ‘cross a line’ of some sort.

    But to get the police involved etc – that’s just not right – and dangerously silly.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Yeah, just plain “silly” to not allow people to issue death threats indiscriminately. Tsk, shame on my government for not realising that threats of harm are merely part of normal discourse.

      Tell me, what if this was say… James Holmes, tweeting “I’m going to kill anyone who goes to see the new Batman movie at my local multiplex”. Just fair play? Free speech?

  • MHB

    If you threaten to shoot me on Twitter, I’d expect the police in the US to follow through on my complaint.

    If you called me all sorts of nasty names, I’d expect the police in the US to laugh at me.

    In England, however…

    John Terry was found innocent of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in a soccer match because Terry didn’t use “fucking black c**t” in a “racial sense.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/jul/13/john-terry-cleared-anton-ferdinand

    If they’re going to regulate hate speech, are they not going to have to curb the religious folks hate speech at some point? Some of the Imams are by definition proponents of hate for their Quran-based homophobia and hate and antisemitism.

    I disagree with punishing speech, but why should the religious have it both ways?

    [Moderator's note: due to a complaint about spelling out offensive words (even in quotation marks), I opted to put *'s in an abusive word referred to in this post.]

    • Pen

      MHB – Terry was cleared because he claimed he said “I did not call you a …” when accused of doing so, and nobody can prove the contrary. Meanwhile, one of the few successful prosecutions for hate speech I’m aware of concerns a homophobic islamic group. In this case, it looks like the guy could have mental issues and certainly could use some kind of attention. If he’s that far out of control of his mouth, what about his body?

      About our whole approach in the UK in general I have conflicting views. Sometimes I think we’re setting a standard for ourselves that’s unreachable and the penalties for temporarily losing it are high. On the other hand, if we’ve decided verbal bullying does restrict the participation and rights of people in important ways, which is something I do believe, then we just have to pay the price. Perhaps as soon as people realise it’s taken seriously they will reach that standard.

      It’s probably a good thing that there are few successful prosecutions, but right now we’ve seen a whole spate of fairly determined enforcement of civil speech by professional bodies, and quite honestly, losing your job or being suspended from it can be a more serious penalty than the legal ones. Haven’t three or four people been sent home from the Olympics already for saying the wrong thing? And what about the continuation of the Terry-Ferdinand(s)-Cole football saga. The speech police are hovering over someone I think genuinely doesn’t think he was out of line. But is turning up the social pressure on witnesses really so innocuous?

  • jacobfromlost

    Sounds like wild mood swings.

    Obviously when the death threats start flying, police involvement is necessary.

  • Adrian Allen

    I think there needs to be a distinction clarified between saying something that might be offensive without actually meaning to offend, as with Jeremy Paxman http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jul/31/jeremy-paxman-religious-comments-offensive-bbc-trust?CMP=twt_fd and saying something offensive with the deliberate intention of offending, as is the case with some of these tweets (and many, many others).
    In the former case, to restrict freedom of speech through sanctions is unacceptable, but in the latter examples, it is the intent that is unacceptable and whilst one may have the freedom to make threats and deliberately offend, then one must realise consequences need to be faced and accepted.
    Oscar Wilde offers some clarity: “A gentleman is never rude by accident.” If anyone is deliberately rude,then deal with the consequences; if accidentally rude, forgive and then educate them and yourself.

    • http://GatwickCityofIdeas Richard W. Symonds

      Adrian says : “I think there needs to be a distinction clarified between saying something that might be offensive without actually meaning to offend….and saying something offensive with the deliberate intention of offending,…”

      Richard says : “Bankers are Wankers – but I don’t wish to offend Wankers”

    • F

      Dealing with threats (or things like sustained, targeted bullying) is one thing, but to artificially construct legal consequences for offensive speech is ridiculous. Consequences are how others hearing the offending speech react. They get to say things back at the person who caused offense. Offensive things, even.

  • Kathy

    I checked out the guy’s timeline before he deleted tweets/locked his account, and this was not an isolated incident – he has actually previously made rape and death threats to other people, including girls who are apparently in his class at school.

    So, yeah, it’s arrest-worthy – in the same way that Dennis Markuze’s behaviour was arrest-worthy. The specific threats are illegal in England, and the pattern of behaviour is worrying enough that really an expert needs to assess him and check that there’s not something other than being a gigantic asshole at work.

    Last I heard he’s received a warning over the threats to Daley, and the police still want to talk to him about his previous Twitter activity.

    It’s a shame that it takes an attack on a popular world-class athlete for someone’s repeated death and rape threats to be investigated in a country where they are illegal, but sadly that’s the world we live in.

  • http://GatwickCityofIdeas Richard W. Symonds

    So the 3 rules in the game of insulting, offending or threatening someone is :

    1. Pick easy targets, especially the powerless, vulnerable & unknown who have no power to fight back.

    2. Avoid difficult targets, especially the rich, powerful & famous who have the power to fight back.

    3. Select surnames without powerful family connections – eg avoid people with surnames like Goldsmith, Sachs or Rothschild.

  • mildlymagnificent

    This stuff does have to go to the police – for initial sorting at least.

    Having had telephoned threats against my children years ago when my husband and I ran a community information service, the police told us they really do need to know. (We also had prior experience of written threats against the organisations we worked for without being about us or any particular person at all.)

    It’s not just about whether you do or don’t feel offended or threatened. Police need to log events relating to certain people. Most of the time they amount to little or nothing. But quite often these people are a danger to **someone** because their delusions or general anti-social behaviour can focus on particular individuals for no reason that the rest of us might perceive. Cops can do some preliminary assessments on who among the assortment of targets might be at real risk – but only if people let them know.

    • http://GatwickCityofIdeas Richard W. Symonds

      Mildly magnificent post MM – thanks.

      I notice on BBC Ceefax this morning the “Twitter Twit” has been issued a “warning” by Dorset Police – no jail.

  • maureen.brian

    Besides, if we Brits were arresting people just for being rude we could have had Romney a dozen times while he was here.

    Our commitment to freedom of speech means we allowed him to move on and be dangerously rude to several other people. What more would you want?

  • anubisprime

    Richard W. Symonds @ 4

    So, if I say “Bankers are Wankers”, will the “Banking Thought Police” come knocking at my door ?

    I am not sure they can arrest anyone in Blighty from stating an obvious truth…can they?…I would have thought there was not a court that would convict on the basis that it is a well known fact!

  • http://GatwickCityofIdeas Richard W. Symonds

    “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech” – Noam Chomsky

    • James

      I’m in favour of free speech for all views, including the view that death threats are protected under freedom of speech. I disagree with that view though, so I don’t classify the threats themselves as protected.

      There are borderline cases (e.g. saying you think someone deserves to be killed for some action or other – can that be construed as a threat or a call for others to follow through? Or is it merely expressing an opinion?), but explicit threats of violence, rape or murder are not borderline. That is intimidation with the likely intent or effect of inhibiting someone else’s right to freedom (of speech, expression or whatever).

  • Kathy

    ‘Free’ does not mean there are no consequences. One of the consequences of threatening to kill people is that the police to will arrest you to check that you’re not actually about to go on a killing spree, and quite possibly warn you from behaving that way again, and/or refer you to approrpiate mental health specialists.

    Death threats are unambiguously exempt from any right to free speech. They’re potentially a red flag for people going on to violent behaviour – much better for the perpretrator as well as the victim for them to be picked up before they actually hurt someone.

    It needn’t have even got to this stage with police involvement if Twitter had banned the kid’s account when people first complained about him being abusive and threatening. When it comes to political speech I’m all for the ‘give them enough rope to hang themselves’ approach, but when it’s a kid who possibly needs some specialist help I’d rather there be an intervention before he broke any laws.

  • Ataraxic

    Just as a follow up, this guy was released with a warning.
    I think an arrest was warranted, just to determine if he was an actual threat or not.
    It’s a case of balancing hazard against risk, in this case the hazard was high, and the risk was unknown, so it was worth putting the punk in a safe place till an accurate assessment of the risk could be made. The police then made the judgement that his bark was worse than his bite, and he was released.
    If no-one had reacted, police would have been accused of ignoring the warning signs if he had actually followed through threats.

  • eric

    Your Thoughts?

    Sounds like drunk…sober…drunk to me.

    I’m a Yank so I can’t really say anything about the arrest’s legality. But if I had been the target (of the later threatening twits), I’d have asked the police to investigate whether this person had a history of violence before taking any arrest action. I’d assume its most likely bluster/venting. If the guy had no prior history of violence, I’d just ignore it. t. If he did, then I might call for police intervention.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    This investigation calls for Sam Spade:

    Down these mean tweets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid…

    [w/ apologies to Raymond Chandler]


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