Twitter, Trolls and Tom Daley
A seventeen year old Twitter user was arrested this week after sending abusive and threatening messages to Olympic diver Tom Daley. After finishing fourth in Monday’s 10 metre synchronised diving event, narrowly missing out on a medal alongside Pete Waterfield, Daley received tweets from @Rileyy_69 telling him he had let down his late father. Daley retweeted the message to his 580,000 followers, dismissed @Rileyy_69 as an “idiot”, and did not directly engage with him again.
Supporters of Daley, 18, came rushing to his defence in droves; the hashtag #TeamDaley became a trending topic and people were soon calling for @Rileyy_69 to be banned from Twitter. However, it was a later tweet from the teenage troll that landed him in hot water with the police – one in which he threatened to drown Daley.
Of course, it is unlikely that the young man had any intention of carrying out this threat – it is incredibly easy to make bold statements when hiding behind a keyboard. But regardless of whether the threat was realistic or not, Dorset Police soon tracked down the youngster and placed him under arrest.
@Rileyy_69 is not the first person whose tweets have got him in trouble with the law. Back in April, political blogger John Graham Kerlenended up facing time in jail after tweeting a photograph of his local councillor’s home and referring to the man himself in less than complimentary terms. Kerlen was arrested after the councillor reported him to the authorities, and was charged and convicted of an offence under Section 127 of the Telecommunications Act 2003. Kerlen’s local council claimed in a statement to be avid defenders of freedom of speech, but went on to clarify: “The council is of the view that Kerlen’s actions went beyond the limits of what is both acceptable and reasonable in terms of freedom of expression.”
The precedent being set here is a jaw-dropping one. Should all internet trolls be treated as potential criminals? The privacy and safety of celebrities and athletes has been a major issue lately, with the high profile Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the press examining what precisely amounts to harassment. Across the pond, Twilight actress Kristen Stewart has received death threats following recent revelations about the reasons behind her split from co-star Robert Pattinson. Earlier this year in the UK, Made In Chelsea cast members Spencer Matthews and Louise Thompson both received threatening tweets after supposedly getting together behind fan favourite Jamie Laing’s back.
Referring to Monday’s debacle, journalist Ed West wrote on The Telegraph website; “freedom of speech has never meant the freedom to make death threats.” With the world’s attention on @Rileyy_69, it will be interesting to see whether the authorities decide to make an example of him. If so, the idle threat may well soon be a thing of the past.
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