Had the Twitter user who poured scorn on diver Tom Daley for failing to score a medal in yesterday's Olympics just left it at the one comment about letting his dad down, the chances are that there would have been a lot of grumbling amongst the online community, and then everybody would have forgotten he existed.
Quite rightly, a lot of the advice given to Daley was to ignore the comments and, early on, the original commenter seemed to recognise the error of his ways and even sent an apology; he was just disappointed that his hopes for a good result had been dashed.
But then it all seemed to go horribly wrong when, following a comment made by Daley, user @Rileyy_99 got on the warpath. Foul language and a string of abuse followed and the online debate got even warmer.
Waking this morning to the news that a young man of similar age to Daley had been arrested following his online tirade, I commented that I was glad he had been, and then entered an interesting debate online covering topics about how we are becoming a Police State and that Freedom of Speech is no more. But there is a difference between a freedom of speech and bullying or abuse.
George Orwell, as one commenter said to me, would have said: "told you so." Indeed, but would Orwell be worried about the Police State or, when you look down this teenage user's Twitter feed, the comments including an apparent threat to one user to stick a knife down their throat or to another user that he would come round to their house with a rope and strangle them with it?
When such comments are made, especially in writing on an Internet site, it's very difficult to decide whether they are made in jest or as a real threat.
As a publican, I spend a lot of time behind the bar mentally assessing whether what people are saying is drunken chit-chat, abusive or simply meant in jest, and then taking an appropriate course of action. We've all made a comment, either verbally or in writing, that we've subsequently regretted but, when you can see somebody's face, it's easier to make that deduction and react accordingly. Usually, if somebody's getting carried away, a simple "calm down" or a suggestion of another fifty pence in the swear box will suffice and most people will laugh it off.
Last year, uproar ensued when Jeremy Clarkson said that NHS employees who went on strike should be shot. Cue tens of thousands of complaints following a startled union who took offence to it but, in reality, anybody watching could see that it might just have been a poorly timed turn of phrase at worst.
We've all got quirky little sayings we like to use habitually. Growing up, whenever I did anything wrong, my mother would tell me I'd get myself shot for whatever bit of mischief I'd got myself in to. "You'll be strung up," is one my wife likes to use repeatedly.
But to tell somebody you're going to drown them, put a knife in their throat or a rope around their neck? All littered with four letter profanity? From a stranger? In writing...?
I'm no prude. Swearing doesn't bother me and I'm proud we live in a liberal age with the ability to share our thoughts with the world, but I stand by my original comment that I'm glad the seventeen year old was arrested.
I'm not suggesting we throw away the key, as some have done, or that he spends the rest of his life besuited in orange, connected to burly men by metal chains, printing number plates for the rest of his life.
But perhaps a little understanding in how to respect others and the technological freedom growing up in the 21st century is affording him wouldn't go amiss...
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