Twitter and the law
IT CAN be difficult sometimes to remember that 98 per cent of humanity is not actually on Twitter. A visiting Martian might think the microblogging service was our prime mode of communication, so often has it been in the news this week. There was the juvenile tweeter in the UK cautioned by police for harassment of British diver Tom Daley; the US-based London Independent journalist who had his tweeting rights suspended after he published the email address of a senior executive at NBC (a commercial partner of Twitter) as part of the #nbcfail campaign against the broadcaster’s time-delayed Olympics coverage; and the disgraced badminton player who announced her retirement on Twitter’s Chinese equivalent, Baidu.
For those who have yet to succumb to Twitter’s charms, these and other stories may seem like missives from the lunatic fringes of the internet, where egomaniacal footballers, maladjusted “fans” and anonymous psychopaths jostle against each other in the digital equivalent of Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell.
The reality is a little more prosaic. For most users, Twitter is an enjoyable and informative way to share information easily with like-minded people and to keep in touch with friends. For some evangelists, it is the harbinger of a new Information Age of Aquarius. But its immediacy and the unmediated access it offers to celebrities is tailor-made for controversy, especially during a global event such as the Olympics.
Not surprisingly, it can be too much of a temptation for the immature, the intoxicated or the simply deranged, who are now finding their bawled insults may have more serious consequences online than they would when shouted at a television screen or scrawled on a toilet door. The two-year-long saga of Paul Chambers, who was threatened with a lengthy prison term after stupidly joking that he would blow up Doncaster airport, finally concluded last week with the overturning of his conviction. For many, that case represented a serious misjudgment by a criminal justice system struggling to catch up with the fast-changing world of new media.
The NBC controversy reminds users that Twitter is not a community, a movement, or even a right. It’s a private company, with a highly uncertain business model which may or may not prove to be sustainable in the long term. For all of us, though, the time has surely come to move on from regarding Twitter as something remarkably good or extraordinarily bad, and just recognise it as an unremarkable part of everyday life.