Social Networking, Free Speech and all that

The law has never been very good at keeping up with social trends or advancements in technology. Many a judge has shown their ignorance of modern life and all its nuances. The twitter joke trial which was highlighted this week shows how the law and its operators can get it so wrong. A joke remark born out of frustration from one tweeter (Paul Chambers) left him in a whole heap of trouble. This was mainly due to the fact that the authorities can’t spot a joke if it came up & bit them. The man in question faces all manner of sanctions should this absurdity not be overturned.

It does however bring up the question of what are social networks for.

Mark Zuckerberg’s said ‘The thing that we are trying to do at Facebook, is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently’. Facebook has become a global phenomenon since its founding 8years ago with a global users of approaching 900 million people worldwide. It allows individuals to connect with other individuals and talk about ridiculously pointless subjects. It enables groups or organisations to promote or plug new ventures. It puts old friends in touch with each other. It can give a platform for every extreme facet of human behaviour. It can also be a warm, funny, inspirational place as well.

Twitter, my preferred method of bleating, was started in 2006 and as of 2011 had over 300 million followers. It restricts the tweeter to a pithy 140 characters to comment, share, reply and promote whatever they wish. Like Facebook it is often used by entertainers to plug shows, new albums, newspaper articles, books or TV programmes. Us mere mortals are able to talk directly to these entertainers and offer instant opinion or comment. Twitter is very now and often is the first medium to release news or comment even before the press or broadcasters. It was accused of being a tool to spread rioting in the UK last summer. Incidentally it was also a very effective means of mobilising huge numbers to clean up the days after the rioting. John Prescott, the much maligned ex Deputy Prime Minister, was instrumental in this mobilisation via Twitter. Footballers pronounce their preferences as to their new national manager minutes after the previous one has resigned. it is a very instant social network.

Blogging, this very medium, allows aspiring writers to publish snapshots of their craft to the web for people to stumble across. It enables people to write passionately about many subjects. This is not as much social networking however as self publishing.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and blogs are undoubtedly outlets for the voiceless to be heard. Speakers Corner in London was a venue where those with a burning desire to be heard would stand on their soap box and speak forth. Many a preacher still stands in town centres throughout the UK, urging people to repent or trust in God. Stanley Green walked up and down Oxford St for many years with his placard urging people to lust after less protein in all its forms and also curiously sitting. Their was an advertising campaign a couple of years ago stating that there is no God but for people not to worry about it. Indeed social networking has enabled the atheist to have a voice now. It is not common for atheists to hand out leaflets asking others not to believe in something. Where then does using the jackboot of the law to stamp down on a ill judged tweeter leave social networking. If you accept that there is utter drivel published or shared hourly by extremists, crackpots and the crashingly boring. If you accept that Russell Crowe, telling you how many bench presses he has done or Joey Barton quoting Nietzsche is valid; you must take this along with the more valuable, enjoyable or life affirming aspects. They are all as relevant as each other because to deny one would be to deny all the right to free speech.

A twitter follower and fellow blogger, Mathew Priest, drummer from the fantastic band Dodgy, promotes their gigs and albums as well as the bands blog and why not? He is also warm and funny to those that follow him. Free publicity is empowering and enables greater visibility so may they reach a wider world as a result. They should not be restricted to narrow forms of communication and neither should the rest of us. It is almost akin to the legendary Mary Whitehouse complaining about what she saw as indecent broadcasting. Well you can always turn it off can’t you? You don’t have to join Facebook or Twitter, or indeed have a MySpace page. Its not vital to say yes to every friend request or be compelled to follow Joey Barton. We all have the capacity to filter the good from bad. Children can be guided to make up their own minds as to how to filter information. We don’t all agree and we also have the right to say so. The world has moved on in the last 10 years at such a rate that we need make sure we are running at the same pace. This applies to UK law as well. You cannot stifle free expression otherwise where will it end?


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