Freedom of Speech vs Trolling
Ever since internet commenting systems came to be and we learned that people can get a little cuh-razy up in there, the debate about freedom of speech and what really counts as a ‘troll’ has raged on. Times have advanced (and people have become so outlandishly cuh-razy in some cases) that these negative online comments can lead to arrests. This BBC article notes that other countries think the UK is too harsh with its arrests of internet loons. Well, let’s have a looksee shall we?
The article specifically references the recent Tom Daley case. Daley, Olympic diver whose father passed away this year, was subject to abuse from someone on Twitter. The original tweet to Daley from the 17 year old harasser was about how Daley had let down his father (during an early Olympic round where he didn’t place). The BBC article implies that this is the reason the 17 year old was arrested, had his computer and phone seized and now has a harassment warning that will stay on his record. Rather foolishly of the BBC, they neglect to mention that the offender continued to harass Daley, swinging from hugely apologetic to eventually threatening to kill him by drowning him.
Sidenote: I would think it would be advisable for these internet gangsters to keep their threats within the realm of possibility. Threatening to drown Olympic diving bronze medalist, Tom Daley is just silly. He’s most likely a stronger swimmer than you. That’s like me threatening to punch Mike Tyson – clearly, he would have the advantage. Maybe the troll could type faster than Daley, or hide an IP address quicker, but drowning? Let’s be real.
Anyhoo, I digress. My point is this: freedom of speech does not give you freedom to be a raging asshole. It does not give you permission to harass and threaten someone. Oh the odd insult here and there, sure, suck it up, but there are lines that are being crossed here and I’m sorry, screaming ‘freedom of speech!’ does not justify this ridiculous behaviour.
I often speak at blogging events and one of the main questions I’m asked is how I deal with negative comments. I’ve had my fair share in my time, mainly petty insults (well, except for that one Madonna fan telling me I should go kill myself…) and my usual response is basically to have none. You can’t talk logic with crazy people. If they’re wound up enough to leave an offensive diatribe in a comments section, no amount of debate I have with them will make a difference. They simply do not like me and I simply am not losing any sleep over it. However, at these blogger events I speak at, I’ve heard horrendous things from some attendees about harassment, about threats against their children. My first response to that is always ‘call the police!’ I don’t have children, but believe me, if I did, I would fight you to the death before you threatened to harm them.
So no, I’m afraid the UK isn’t massively overreacting. It’s possible we just have more assholes per capita here who don’t know how to control their itchy trigger fingers when it comes to online conduct, but that behaviour should not go unpunished. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. How are we to know these people won’t take their threats offline and into the real world? Online threats and harassment have a massive emotional effect on the victim. Should someone who cyberbullied a school mate so much their victim killed them self only be punished if they physically gave them the rope? It’s time people started taking responsibility for their actions and stop thinking ‘freedom of speech’ means their words have no effect.