It is wrong to insult an Olympian who has just missed out on a medal, and worse to bring his dead father into it. But, as Melanie Philips and others have pointed out in this morning’s papers, it is hardly criminal. Yesterday, Dorset police arrested a teenager after he sent a nasty message to Tom Daley, the Englishman who finished fourth in the synchronised diving on Monday. ‘You let your dad down and I hope you know that,’ said @Rileyy_69, on Twitter. Tom Daley’s father died last year of a brain tumour, so he, his friends and his supporters were understandably angry. Even @Rileyy_69 saw that he had crossed a line, and apologised, before threatening to drown Daley in a pool (a tweet he later deleted).
But he was too late. He had transgressed the boundaries of acceptable online opinion, and the baying online crowd wanted punishment. A ‘Twitition” to have him banned circulated, and soon the authorities were involved. There’s more than a touch of fascism here. It is possible – even probable – that the police are more concerned about threats that @Rileyy_69 made to his tormentors than they are about his unpleasantness towards Tom Daley.
But the little troll is clearly a silly and frightened child who lashed out, so it is absurd to take any of his ‘tweets’ seriously. What is serious, however, is that Twitter -thanks to its power to enable mobs to form almost instantly around hostile consensuses – has become a court of public comment, and moronic remarks on the web so often result in the police getting involved. Rileyy’s story is just the latest in a series of arrests for acts committed online. Officers of the law ought to see that abuse on Twitter, no matter how offensive or unpopular, is not the same as abuse in person. It is disturbing that they don’t.Tags: Policing, Social Media, Twitter