I am, at many points of any given day, prone to saying the most outlandish and reprehensible things. I joke about death, murder, paedophilia, scat, religion, fisting, piss and Mancunians alike. Sometimes, like other people, I probably go too far. In some company it’s fair enough – two lifelong mates sat in a front room drinking beers can and should be able to say anything to each other. Taste and decency need not apply.
And then there’s other company where you’d keep your mouth a bit less flappy. That classic Ian Huntley line you told down the pub on Friday night is probably not one to whisper in your mum’s ear as you kneel down at Sunday mass.
But, ’twas ever thus. Since the dawn of time, when cavemen first told jokes to their mates about their cavewives’ taste in mammoth cocks, knowing what to say and when and where to say it has been an essential part of your social armoury in a quest to win and retain friends/partners.
But what was also every thus was the unspoken right to get it wrong: to say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person is incredibly easy. That comment about anorexia sounded funny in your head as you see a colleague about to snaffle a tub of lard, and then it turns out that anorexia killed their mum and then you look straight into the face of mortal embarrassment and must either:
- Be a cunt and carry on laughing as they run, crying to the toilet
- Man up, apologise and make a mental note to stray away from those kind of jokes with that person again
Only now, you can play those mistakes out in the public with horrible personal consequences. The Twitter Joke Trial and Rileyy_69 affairs show that suddenly you’re not dealing with people you know, but whole swathes of people who you only know from the casual, witty bon mots they splatter their Twitter feeds and Facebook walls with.
The next thing you know is that your little off-colour joke offends. But instead of it ending there and then with an embarrassed apology, it’s in the lap of the gods as to what happens next. Maybe the exchange gets retweeted. Then retweeted again with a little “this guy’s a twat” addendum. And then it snowballs until some cunt like Piers Morgan retweets it. And from there, your off-the-cuff failed-humour moment is a hop, skip and a jump away from the pages of the press. Where it reaches your mum, your boss and wreaks terrible havoc on your personal life as you suddenly find yourself in a media fishbowl you never imagined.
Hell – the police are apparently all over this stuff. It’s easy pickings in a world where other kinds of crime (rape, murder, robbery) are difficult to prove. The evidence for you being “offensive” is produced at the push of Ctrl+P. It must do wonders for police detection rates – and don’t think those cunts ignore that stuff. Notice that Dorset police – so quick to break down Rileyy_69′s front door at 2.45am have a detection rate of 25%. Of 603 sexual offences, they managed to solve the princely sum of 155 in 2011 but they can round up a set of lads to go door breaking in the wee hours because the risk of failure is so slight and it’s such a soft target. Slow handclap. (at this point I must recommend Cranmer’s take on why Reilyy needs help, not arrest.)
And so, you must start to self-censor – essentially in fear of the mob. Apologies for the now obligatory quote from 1984 (which increasingly seems to be less a work of fiction and more a blueprint)
“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”
As Twitter explodes into one of its periodic spasms of moral indignation over this comment or other and you pile in with your two pen’orth of self-righteousness, think about what you’re doing. Who knows what horrors lie in your own timelines or in a long-forgotten email exchange?
“The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed— would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper— the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
Every email, text, tweet and status you’ve ever made could and can be held against you in a court of law. Do you want that? Are you so perfect to have never called someone a cunt unnecessarily? Or to have made a quasi death-threat in jest? Good luck trying to establish it as a joke when it is dug up by the hate mob 3 years later.
And the law is closing its deathly noose on your daily discourse of bilge and rudeness. Section 5, anyone?
First they came for people who made terrorism jokes because computers and the law don’t do irony and you maybe claimed you were Spartacus on Twitter. But then they came for the people who made racist epithets, but you didn’t say anything because no-one likes racists, eh? Then they came for people who like edgy porn, but you didn’t say anything because you like edgy porn yourself and you don’t want that getting out. Then they came for people who sent sweary emails to their MP and then you definitely didn’t say anything because the universe proves you’ve called yours a cunt, like, a million times. And eventually they came for you because why the fuck not?
I can’t be the only one finding some kind of irony in the fact that we bombed Libya on the premise of protecting free speech, accompanied by laudatory praise for the way social media played a role in disseminating protest, and yet seemingly all love to pile into some poor schlub with a big mouth who says something off-colour on Twitter.
The internet, partly born from an idea about indelible free speech, is instead becoming am open prison where the public are the police – but not in the way that Peel ever intended. Instead we’re seemingly all on the edge of reporting someone to the police for offending us and deciding more or less on the basis of mob sentiment who should be punished for what.
I’ll leave you with another Orwell moment. Try and think about it the next time you’re tempted to join a Twitter mob attack. We’re this close:
“It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak — ’child hero’ was the phrase generally used — had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.”