Geeks don't like it when things are not 'fair'. I don't mean not fair in a tantrum rattle throwing way, I mean a basic human right violated, criminal getting away with it kind of not fair. Something done wrong, which could easily be righted, a thing unprovoked and unwarranted, undone.
On Thursday, a man called Paul Chambers lost his appeal against his conviction earlier this summer, under some random nuisance call legislation, for posting a tweet joking about Robin Hood airport being closed. No matter that the tweet was a written communication, no matter that it was a joke and everyone knowing the man who read his stream would have know this without needing to be told, no matter that he is one man writing in public what a thousand will have said in private - the conviction stands and he is saddled with a total £2000 bill as well.
Also on Thursday, a Birmingham Councillor posted a tweet inciting the stoning of a Muslim columnist for the Evening Standard and The Independant, also on Twitter. Gareth Compton apologised, used in his defense the comment:
Twitter is a forum for glib comment of the moment. It was a glib comment. Who could possibly think it was serious?If the Judge in the appeal for Paul Chambers cast doubt on his defense that he was not keeping up with news and current affairs, then one assumes this is also the defense Gareth Compton is using. So tell me, do tell me please, how it is possible that Gareth Compton is not being charged with anything for a 'glib comment' on Twitter which was tantamount to inciting murder in text, while a young man has been punished for life for doing exactly the same thing - except I think we can all agree that perhaps his comment was more obviously a joke, given the context?
Ah, but here we come to the crux of the matter. Context. Both these tweets are taken out of context, and as such contain no history, no attached framework which explains the context within which they were said. And lo! because legislation has not kept apace with technology developments, we now have a situation where we are using 80 year old legislation to prosecute 21st century commentary. Which, therefore, does not require context, but only allows a comment to be judged on what it is - a comment out of time.
So we come to this morning. Ah yes, I hear you cry, but you're biased. Well actually, I'm not. I've never spoken to the lady in question, until this morning I did not follow her, and though we know many people in common because this is the nature of Twitter, we did not know each other at all. I now follow her, and she now follows me. But this is inconsequential, as I have not read her stream at all.
The lady I am talking about, of course, is one Sarah Baskerville, aka Baskers, which is her tag on Twitter. The Daily Mail, this morning, saw fit to print a character assasination of someone, by name, in Quentin Letts column. It is worth noting the number of comments on the piece linked above. It appears The Daily Mails abhoration of freedom of speech extends to its readership, who are not permitted to express displeasure at the contents of the articles they are reading.
Baskers is a civil servant. She writes a wonderful blog. In it, she comes across as a rather intelligent, bright young woman, in a job which she admits she could try harder at but also admits is not glamourous or particularly frontline. So instead of descending into a spiral of self pity and demotivation, she has looked outside of her little silo and has decided to push the transparency agenda as hard as she can, involving herself voluntarily, and giving her time freely, to attend unconferences and bar camps and to talk to the geeks who are trying to do cool and funky things with data, in order to bridge a gap, a gap of understanding, of comprehension, of workflow and of civic mystery.
In other words, last time I looked, a shining role model of what Big Society is. Is it not? Is this how we reward the people who work for us not only 9-5 in front of a desk, but also out in the wild, telling people the good, but also occasionally the bad, and in the process gaining audience and credibility in their honesty? Is this the thanks we will give to a generation of men and women who see the right and shout about it, but also see the wrong and shout about that too - and then get off their asses and go and try and do something about it? Do we want sheep who will do nothing but what's instructed, never to think for themselves, never to innovate or find the edges?
Can I suggest to the Daily Mail that the roi on Baskers is not only monetary? That she is a link between the past and the future? That her way of doing things - honestly and openly - is the future that generation y are bringing en masse whether you like it or not?
Except no, I cannot. Because the comment thread is closed. And here we come to the root of the cause of all this noise. The fear. The fear that social networking, social media is untrackable, untraceable, rippling and evolving. Out of control? Perhaps in only the sense that everything is out of control, in its evolution. Could we have predicted the expanding capabilities of the computer chip 10 years ago? Should we have stamped on that development because we had no idea of where it would end? As a species, are we going to stamp on all things which we cannot predict, because we do not wish to see where the unsigned path will lead? Why is freedom of speech free only verbally, why is it becoming clear that freedom of speech textually is going to be a gnarly issue, attempts made to constrict and punish? Why has Twitter suddenly become the focus of so much attention? Is it because it is easier to read bursts of 140 and find the thoughtlessly posted comments, than it is to wade through every blog in existence? But reading only one 140 burst only gives a moment, not the context.
So here's the thing. I am going to ask very many people to tell me the good things about Twitter. The positive things. The life changing things and the little things which make peoples day. If social media is telling a story, well come tell me yours, because if you believe the media this week, Twitter is only negative, and I don't believe that for a second.
So, in the spirit of militant optimism, this is the line. I am drawing it. Time to fight back in black and white, to tell the story of networking, of entrepreneurs, of love and laughter, of connections and friendships for life, of lobbying and engaging with constituents, of doing business and telling people they've got jobs, of memes and hash tags, of all the things Twitter which has brought us, of all the conversations in sight and out. All things can be used and abused. Alcohol causes utter chaos every Friday and Saturday night. But in the interests of balance, I think it's time to pour a glass of wine, just the one, and to savour every drop, sensibly.
ETA: A story of the Gaza convoy hostages via my friend @annelidworm who used social media with others to bring the plight of his friend to the attention of the traditional media. Incidentally, I've met him once, but spoken to him, on and off, for well over 15 years - using social media.