June 14, 2012

The #TwitterJokeTrial yet again!

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:12 am

In a fortnight’s time, I shall once again be attending the High Court in London to both offer my support and satisfy my interests at the next hearing of the #TwitterJokeTrial. This next hearing is essentially a rehearing of the case presented on 8th February, and on this occasion will be heard by three High Court Judges – meaning than we are guaranteed a majority decision. The judges will be led by the Lord Chief Justice Mr. Justice Judge – the most senior judge in the land, and clearly someone named for the role…

What’s at stake then? Why are we (Paul’s supporters) continuing to push this? This seems to be an important question – even my own mother can’t understand why I would devote time to this – so I thought perhaps a brief explanation of why I personally continue to support Paul might be helpful.

First of all, this message, well, wasn’t a message. A message clearly has an intended recipient, without which it is meaningless. It would be more accurate to say that Paul published a tweet that the judges considered menacing – publishing being the art of making content available to the public at large.

If such publication can be a problem, then heaven help places like Facebook, Twitter, or just about any other site on the internet that hosts content produced by it’s own users. “Sorry lads, but you published this menacing content you see…”. The site hosting the content is surely guilty of publishing the offending content, and certainly guilty of “causing to be published”.
Clearly the law was not written with such an application in mind. Indeed, the section of law under which Paul was convicted has its origin in leglislation aiming to prevent people being rude to Post Office Telephone Operators… The internet certainly wasn’t what the law was intended to govern, and yet hear we are… Mission creep…

This is however an extremely serious piece of mission creep. You see, everything you send to the internet, be it traffic to a website, an email, skype etc – whatever it is, at some point on it’s journey to the server crosses the public telecommunications network. There’s no way around that. Up until the #TwitterJokeTrial, this had never really proven a problem, as presumably realising the law was not intended for this purpose, prosecutors never tried to use the law in this way.

Of course, with the #TwitterJokeTrial, that has all changed – so we now have effectively regulation of what can be said on the internet by the stretching of a very imprecise piece of legalisation. More troubling still, there seems to be no consistency as to how this law is to be applied – thousands of people have republished Paul’s exact tweet as part of #IAmSpartacus and not a single one of them – not one – has been prosecuted. The CPS seem to have adopted a rather casual attitude to equal treatment before the law…

Worse still, this law, bent out of all recognition now to regulate our internet posts, relies upon some extremely subjective tests. Messages (grrr) are in breech of it if they are either grossly offensive, indecent or menacing. Well, what some people would deem their day to day exchanges with friends, others might find grossly offensive – it’s all a matter of the observer’s perspective. Similar arguments can be made for both “menacing” and “indecent”.

Unfortunately, when you’re sat in the dock, the person who’s perspective really counts when assessing all this is the judge – and herein we encounter the thorny question of whether the judiciary can be said to move in the same circles as the people – to understand the mind of the common man. On many issues, particularly technology issues which are often the preserve of the young, the judiciary (often the preserve of the not-so-young) simply do not share a realistic understanding of the matters at hand. That’s a major problem for us all, as it means their judgement is, by definition, impaired.

In essence, the Twitter Joke Trial is not merely an effort to bring justice for Paul Chambers, though that’s undoubtedly a big part of it. It’s also about trying to defend the rights of you and I to freely express ourselves on the internet, without having to worry about some civil servant sitting in a darkened office trying to work out if we can be charged for expressing our views. We’ve already had our first case of this legislation being used to put down political opposition (research the #FreeTheBexleyOne hashtag), and we cannot allow it to go any further. A line has to be drawn in the sand that says we are free, within the confines of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to express ourselves – even using humour / satire should we choose.

Social media, and particularly Twitter, represents a massive shift of power in this country. Suddenly, the masses are able to communicate with ease, or organise campaigns, to discuss strategies. We are no longer the docile isolated rabbits of the past – we’re able to move en-mass, to hold to account, to scrutinise. This has been helped by the fact that a lot of politically aware people have flocked to Twitter, and the site is truly gaining influence. The beautiful thing about it of course is that it has to leader – it’s more of a hive mind that truly reflects what the rest of us think and feel – and if you’re a part of the establishment, that’s a scary thing.

So – rant over… What can you do to help? Well, first of all, and more practically, you can donate to the appeal fund. Although Paul’s legal team are largely fighting this one for free or peanuts, they still encounter legitimate expense, making the appeal fund absolutely essential to the fight. Here’s a link to the donation page

Secondly, discuss this case with friends, with colleagues, with anyone who will listen. We need to raise the profile of this one particular case, as to be honest this is our one opportunity to give those that wish to control our use of the internet a bloody nose. We are unlikely to have this chance, this level of support, ever again.

Thirdly, remain vigilent… The government have plenty of sinister legislation in mind for the internet – be on the watch for it, and oppose it, lawfully. Until we get a verdict on #TwitterJokeTrial though, I’d shy away from anything too offensive!



1 Comment »

  1. I think people felt bad for me afterwards
    because of how nervous I was. Another important point of comparison between the two companies
    would be in political and charitable affiliations. An estimated 80% of Americans between the ages of 33 and 44 use the internet as a tool for research, shopping and banking.

    Comment by Sondra — March 19, 2013 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

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