Tuesday 31 July 2012

Tom Daley and the twitter troll problem (an apology of sorts)

This morning I wrote a somewhat impassioned Twitlonger piece (I'm good at that) calling out the twitter mob that goaded a sick 17 year old young man into carrying on with his abusive behaviour towards the British Olympic diver Tom Daley (as well as others). I did not realise that Daley himself had retweeted an abusive message. That's my mistake and I'll have to live with it. But I mostly still agree with my sentiments. I've received a lot of very interesting responses to that Twitlonger. I'm not going to respond to them, but I'd like to make a few general observations. First, when I say "You know who you are", please understand that this also implies the opposite. If you are one of those who know who you are and are secure in your conscience, so be it. My piece was mainly to get people thinking.

Second, criticizing the twitter mob is not the same as "defending the indefensible". This is a straw man. I do not defend the young man's actions. He clearly has broken the letter of the law. He will now be dealt with for better or for worse. I don't see being arrested and facing criminal charges as a particularly good way to sort your life out. I doubt that he will receive much help in that regard, but I hope so. He will very likely be charged over this. I can't see how he won't unless his soundness of mind is questioned. That will probably be left to a judge.

The charges are likely to be more serious than the #TwitterJokeTrial charge of s.127 of the Communications Act 2003. Those who criticize me for making the comparison to Paul Chambers' case are perhaps missing the point. I said that the prosecution will go to the ends of the earth to make an example of someone, whether deserving or not. Paul Chambers was underserving. His prosecution was wildly disproportionate to the stated aims. This prosecution, should one be brought, is clearly much more deserving. But I think if the young man had simply been ignored, he would have ceased entirely. It is a shame that Daley retweeted him, but I certainly understand that.

The young man has admitted that he has experienced the recent loss of his mother. Some say that he should then be more sympathetic towards the diver who recently lost his father. Of course he should! We would expect anyone of sound mind to be more respectful. But consider that his own parental loss may have caused him to identify with the young diver (who is roughly the same age and from a nearby area I'm told), to an unhealthy extent. I'm not a phychiatrist and even if I were, I've never spoken to the boy. It's plausible though that he saw the failure of Daley to win a medal yesterday as some sort of personal one.

Finally, to any of my friends who have been upset by what I've written, I apologise. But I'm not your dad, I didn't name anyone, no one is identifiable. I'm not in a position to judge and I will not judge anyone individually. However, I will always say my piece. I'm not going to hold back. You should know that about me by now. That's all I have to say on the matter. Thank you for reading.


  1. I can't entirely agree with this analysis. s127 of the Communications Act 2003 covers threats made with the specific intent of causing distress in another individual. This continues to be the case.

    When Reece Sonny James was simply making off colour remarks towards Tom Daley, he had the protection of a right to free speech. By the same token, when Daley retweeted James' tweet, and others sent tweets to James, they too had the same protection.

    In my view, things took a turn for the worse once James and others started threatening each other with violence. Specifically in the case of James, his threats to drown Daley, whilst highly unlikely to be carried out, were sent with the express intent of causing distress. In all likelihood, Daley had blocked James by this point, but as we know, whether those messages were received or not is irrelevant to the creation of the offence.

    Now, I'd hate to see this sorry episode end in a conviction, or worse, imprisonment, I am comfortable with the notion that the police were within their rights at this point to act, and that it may in fact have been the best thing for James for them to do so. In his apparently fragile mental state he may have harmed himself or others, and it seems pretty clear that there wasn't a more mature guiding force around at the time, or he would have stopped tweeting long before things got to this point.

    I'm also dubious of this self flagellating discussion of how Twitter became outraged and behaved with an almost mob mentality towards James. We already know that this is how Twitter behaves. It is emergent property of the medium. Trolls in fact use this behaviour for their enjoyment. I don't lay the blame at Twitter for being itself.

    Instead, what I see is tragic, confused young man who clearly has inadequate guidance from the people around him and stepped into a social media arena which he cannot cope with. It is unfortunate in the extreme that it appears the only guiding influence available to him is the police.

  2. Oh yes. The other thing worth mentioning is: James said at different times that his mother / or his father had died, but never mentioned both at the same time.

    To my mind, this undermines the credibility of this assertion. This may be an indicator of his mental state, or that he has been through the care system, or goodness knows what.


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