Are we safer now? My take on the twitter joke trial where I get a bit angry towards the end

Posted on November 12th, 2010 @ 16:57 in Uncategorized

Actually this should probably read “my questions about the Twitter Joke Trial”. I know there’ve been like hundreds of blog posts about this, most much more eloquent and pertinent than what will follow. I point you to Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not usually of the opinion that a layperson is well equipped to judge (ha) matters of the law. I’m not a fan of juries, as I believe you cannot apply the law without having knowledge of it and being able to apply it impartially. This means you may be totally sympathetic towards a perpetrator because of his mitigating circumstances, but still if he’s robbed a bank, there will have to be consequences. Tho in this case the mitigating circumstances may well work in the accused’s favour.

Because of course it’s not always clear cut and completely black and white. An, um, acquaintance of mine who practices law (tho civil cases, not criminal) once said to me (I paraphrase) “you usually approach a case already knowing how you will rule. Then you just need to find the right laws to back up your judgement”. Because of course a judge uses their common sense (and, to a certain extent, their own convictions, political leanings etc, tho ideally this should not come into it) to judge each case. There is no specific law for every single situation that has ever been judged, thus the existing laws are often “bent” around the actual case.

In the case of Paul Chambers’ joke this is particularly pertinent since they used a rather old law aimed against nuisance calls to convict Chambers. So, the intend to convict was there, then they had to find a law that he couldn’t wiggle himself out of.

The ludicrous claim of Judge Davies that the tweet “is obviously and quite clearly menacing and that any ordinary person would agree” (see Exhibit A) is of course particularly jarring to us online dwellers and Twitter users. We are, after all, the “ordinary persons” most likely to see his tweet, and so far none of us have come forward to assert that they would indeed have taken such a threat seriously. The question is, does Judge Davies really believe what she said, i.e. is she just ignorant, not just of online etiquette, but quite frankly of the general public’s ability to take a joke in any medium (and Matt Bradley in Exhibit B seems to think so, for he takes the time to explain her error of judgement to her), or does she indeed know all this full well but manipulated reality ever so slightly in order for her ruling to – haha – stand up in court?

And the further question that arises from this is – why? Why make an example of Paul Chambers, and what exactly is thought to be achieved by this? (I deliberately use the passive voice as I am also unsure who’s to gain from this ruling) Many voices have piped up online saying they are now afraid of their government, afraid of speaking their mind. This is certainly a real concern, but if you turn the argument around… what interest does the government have in ostensibly silencing its ordinary, more or less law abiding, non-terrorist citizens?

Because it’s not like this is actually going to make us all safer by making real terrorists easier to detect (they are not known to publicly announce their intentions on Twitter), and unlike the security theatre at airports, it doesn’t even give the illusion that we are safer. It will certainly make people think twice about making a glib comment, but on the other hand it will probably spark other, more ambiguous statements all over in order to provoke the “powers that be”. Or less ambiguous ones as seen in the thousands of #IAmSpartacus tweets.

Unfortunately this also isn’t going to have any long term effect on the citizens’ passive acceptance of the way they are treated. I predict that beyond the initial outrage there will be very little action, and next to none that will actually involve getting out of our desk chairs. Of course I’m not one to talk. *heh*

But I do wish this was the one outcome of this, as more and more of our liberties are eroded, and we more or less take it all in stride. There should be much much more outrage about this. I subscribe to JoeTheDough’s tweet: “It might actually be time to smash some shit up.” Fo’real. [disclaimer: it’s all said in jest, M’Lord, I never had the intention of really taking to the streets in violent protests. That is not the answer of course! It’s better to just shut up and let your government herd you like the fucking cattle you are. Especially in November in the rain.]

PS And I am very sad that my entry # 1984 is about Rome, as it would have been so fitting for this particular post! Am almost tempted to reshuffle them!!!

1 Comment

Matt Flaherty said on Nov 12, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Hi. Thank you for the link. I paraphrased from memory, but someone has quoted what I seem to remember was about right. It reads even worse:

“menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.”


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