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A quick guide to being threatened on Twitter

In which we try to Help Journos like Hadley Freeman, who don’t appear to know that the law actually says. The legal quotes are from this case.

We still have freedom of speech.

Satirical, or iconoclastic, or rude comment, the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it should and no doubt will continue at their customary level, quite undiminished by this legislation. .., we should perhaps add that for those who have the inclination to use “Twitter” for the purpose, Shakespeare can be quoted unbowdlerised, and with Edgar, at the end of King Lear, they are free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel.

The threat must be. in most cases, credible.

Before concluding that a message is criminal on the basis that it represents a menace, its precise terms, and any inferences to be drawn from its precise terms, need to be examined in the context in and the means by which the message was sent. The Crown Court was understandably concerned that this message was sent at a time when, as we all know, there is public concern about acts of terrorism and the continuing threat to the security of the country from possible further terrorist attacks. That is plainly relevant to context, but the offence is not directed to the inconvenience which may be caused by the message. In any event, the more one reflects on it, the clearer it becomes that this message did not represent a terrorist threat, or indeed any other form of threat. It was posted on “Twitter” for widespread reading, a conversation piece for the appellant’s followers, drawing attention to himself and his predicament. Much more significantly, although it purports to address “you”, meaning those responsible for the airport, it was not sent to anyone at the airport or anyone responsible for airport security, or indeed any form of public security. The grievance addressed by the message is that the airport is closed when the writer wants it to be open. The language and punctuation are inconsistent with the writer intending it to be or to be taken as a serious warning. Moreover, as Mr Armson noted, it is unusual for a threat of a terrorist nature to invite the person making it to ready identified, as this message did. Finally, although we are accustomed to very brief messages by terrorists to indicate that a bomb or explosive device has been put in place and will detonate shortly, it is difficult to image a serious threat in which warning of it is given to a large number of tweet “followers” in ample time for the threat to be reported and extinguished.

Now, forgive me seeming to be in anyway critical of Ms Freeman, who fulfills an important role at the Guardian, stuffing its pages with all sorts of product  that is, like a MacDonalds burger, filling but not actually nutritious or good for you, but if you feel genuinely threatened by a bomb threat, going on Twitter to announce you are calling the police is an odd way to show it.

Here are three tweets from Ms Freeman’s timeline last night;

We’ve gone from rape to bomb threats, I see MT A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT 10:47

I guess ol’ failed to understand my column today. Stop being such a tragic dick,

Finally, in response to a comment about  a previous account with a similar name being suspended, Ms Freeman says

I’ll miss him. He had good

Eventually Ms Freeman says, to two of her friends

I’m calling the police. If it’s illegal to threaten to bomb an airport, it’s illegal to threaten to bomb me

With the greatest of respect to Ms Freeman, she seems to have misunderstood the law, and tohave given the person making those stupid remarks (who appears to be a fuckwit of the highest order) a perfect defence. By not reacting initially, Ms Freeman underlined that she did not consider this to be a credible threat.  She reads the message and tells the world at large about it, before, an hour later, asserting that if it’s illegal to threaten to bomb an airport, it’s illegal to threaten to bomb her.

As the Chambers case demonstrates, and examines in depth at para 32, it isn’t illegal to say you’ll blow up an airport if no-one believes you. The fact that Ms Freeman acted with reasonable fortitude, and dismissed the person threatening her online as a dick, and did not run into the street in terror, could be the best defence the fuckwit has.


One comment on “A quick guide to being threatened on Twitter

  1. Martin X (@Spitefuel)
    August 1, 2013

    Agree with most of this but suspect it’s possible to claim “disbelief” as an initial reaction. I do think it’s important when someone threatens violence against you online however that you *should* always challenge them to confirm that it is what they are saying. If they repeat their threat then the evidence should be sufficient for court/police. Also advisable to re-locate at that point not just to emphasise the point but also for genuine safety. Many of the people posting this kind of abuse suffer mental health issues that make their behaviour unpredictable at best.


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This entry was posted on August 1, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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