If Twitter hate mobs are Ultron, where is the internet’s Vision?

For the last ten years-or-so I’ve been convinced that governments would be responsible for the death of the Internet As We Know It: ever-encroaching censorship and surveillance transforming the promise of the open internet into something darker, more capitalist, more consumerist and, essentially, more 20th century. Here’s me on the Digital Economy Bill, and then on the good ol’ Twitter Joke Trial. That’s a lotta words.

Then so-called GamerGate happened, late last year. An amorphous bunch of apparent activists rose up, ostensibly to decry ethics in games journalism but in reality taking every opportunity to harass female game devs, game journalists and gamers, and anybody who supported them. Rape threats. Death threats. It was the abuse unleashed upon Anita Sarkeesian writ large, with a broad brush. The aggressors wielded the term ‘Social Justice Warrior’ as if it were something to be ashamed of. And all the while they claimed the moral high ground, even while forcing planes to land and issuing genuine terrorist threats to universities. The actions of GamerGate spoke far louder than its words. Continue reading


Truth, justice and the English way

I will be brief: Paul Chambers is taking his appeal regarding the ‘Twitter Joke Trial’ to the High Court.

To do so is very expensive. At least £10,000 expensive. Unfortunately, to have justice you have to be rich – unless you’ve got most of the online community behind you, of course.

If you enjoy communicating online (or, indeed, offline) with friends and family and would like to retain such freedoms, please do consider donating to his legal fund:


Simon Wright MP calls Twitter Joke Trial ‘ludicrous’

Rather unexpectedly, I found myself in a room at the Millennium Library in Norwich this evening with my friend Wayne Bolt (co-host of the Spiffing Review podcast) talking to Liberal Democrat MP Simon Wright about the Twitter Joke Trial and the Digital Economy Act.

This came about after Wayne noticed that Mr Wright, MP for Norwich South where we live, had several surgeries scheduled over the next few weeks, including one today. We hastily made an appointment, deciding to talk to him while the Twitter Joke Trial was still top news.

Neither of us knew Mr Wright’s stance on the Twitter Joke Trial. During the General Election we established that he was generally opposed to the Digital Economy Bill, but never went into much detail. We were both braced for the possibility of an MP that would defend the CPS, stating that Paul Chambers was an idiot that deserved punishing for tweeting in this environment of danger and terrorism.

“So this is about the ludicrous Twitter conviction?” he announced before we’d even sat down, denying us the opportunity of a satisfying, fist-smashing-on-table rant.

What followed was a brief but encouraging conversation with a politician who seemed to have a good grasp of the issues and discussed eloquently quite diverse topics surrounding both the Twitter Joke Trial and Digital Economy Act.

There didn’t seem to be much convincing to do, so instead we focused on trying to give Mr Wright as many of the facts as possible, elaborating on the origins of the ridiculous law that has encircled Paul Chambers; the straw man argument of using ‘times we live in’ rationale for a law that has nothing to do with terrorism; the impact of this legislation on British culture, business and therefore its economy in the 21st century; the consequent stifling of innovation and pushing of internet businesses abroad; how neither Paul Chambers nor Gareth Compton should be matters for the criminal courts; how web blocking could destroy user generated content and online communities in the UK; and how the global spread of the #twitterjoketrial and #iamspartacus hashtags have turned the United Kingdom into an international laughing stock and object of disbelief.

Wayne even managed to compare the current era to that of the Industrial Revolution, noting how that particular change led to two hundred years of general prosperity for the country and that failing to embrace the Digital Revolution would lead to two hundred years of self-inflicted failure.

Mr Wright has promised to write to the Home Secretary to raise these concerns. I will be contacting Mr Wright this weekend with additional information and links to relevant resources so that he has everything to hand.

If you have any useful links relating to the Twitter Joke Trial or the Digital Economy Act please let me know ASAP so that I can forward them to Simon Wright.

I will, of course, be keeping a close eye on this and will keep you all posted once we get a response from Theresa May’s office.

The United Kingdom will not survive the 21st century

Paul Chambers’ appeal was thrown out today, the Doncaster court once again finding him guilty and chucking another £2500-odd prosecution fees at him. I’ve written about Paul before (here and here) so I won’t repeat myself, especially as others are commenting and reporting on the case far more eloquently than myself (Martin Wainwright was there, Evan Harris offers a rational response, and don’t forget Paul’s superhero lawyer David Allen Green who will no doubt be blogging soon).

What I will do is urge you to support Paul by donating to his appeal fund, which you can do by clicking here.

If you don’t have much interest in Paul Chambers’  case, or even if you think he was a bit of a twat for tweeting his bad joke, you should still donate, and here’s why:

This isn’t just about Paul Chambers anymore. In fact, while I sympathise with Paul and will support him until he is once more a free man, he’s ultimately just a single symptom of a disease that has spread relentlessly through the UK’s infrastructure.

Note that I say infrastructure. This disease does not generally affect ordinary men and women, who are largely immune to its effects and simply get on with their lives. It’s a disease that specifically affects lawmakers and law enforcers, and it’s a disease that will kill the UK in the 21st century if action is not taken.

The double-whammy of the ‘Twitter Joke Trial’ and the Digital Economy Act have positioned the UK as a place where you do not want to be if you have anything to do with internet communications or online business.

This is a country ruled by politicians that do not understand the internet and who are happy to stifle the emerging markets so as to prop up archaic and irrelevant corporations from the last century that are clinging onto their crumbling empires.

This is a country with a justice system that is run by people that have no comprehension of online communications and culture and barely understand basic human behaviour and interaction.

When a bad joke can get you arrested and convicted, something has gone horrifically wrong.

Even in the case of Gareth Compton there are no sensible grounds for arrest. The guy would seem to be a prize fool with a rather unpleasant sense of humour, but his fate should be determined by voters or the leaders of his party: again, making a bad joke should not and cannot be illegal.

Increasingly, the UK’s policies, laws and judges are making it a hostile place for the internet and those that live and work through it. If this continues, the UK will be left behind as the world changes and evolves over the next 50-100 years. We’ll be left as nothing but a curious backwater, regarded as a poor ‘developing’ country that missed the boat when the flood came and which is lamely trying to catch up.

It’s difficult to comprehend why this is actually happening. As I see it there are two possible explanations for the Digital Economy Act and Twitter Joke Trial existing at all:

  1. Deliberate malice: elements within the government and justice system know exactly what they are doing and are taking the country in a calculated direction that serves their own desires.
  2. Ignorance and stupidity: the government and justice system genuinely don’t understand the 21st century and these problems are arising due to a lack of knowledge and understanding. Everything is a result of them blindly leading the country down a dead-end street without realising.

Either explanation is unacceptable. We can’t allow leaders that wish to destroy the country for their own personal gain, or leaders that are uninformed and unintelligent.

In both cases it is largely a generational issue: none of these people grew up with the internet. It appears that the judges and police forces involved with the Twitter Joke Trial have had to have Twitter explained to them extensively and repeatedly, while it was evident throughout the Digital Economy Bill that very few politicians had even a vague understanding of copyright, piracy or the online economy. The government and judiciary are increasingly out of step with wider society.

We could just wait for them all to retire or die, at which point informed people would theoretically take the reins. Except that would leave people like Paul Chambers to suffer in the interim period, which cannot be allowed. And let’s not underestimate the chances of the disease mutating, spreading beyond the internet and infecting every aspect of British life until all our freedoms are nothing more than cherished memories.

As well as donating to the appeal fund (an appeal that is not just about Paul but the fate of the country and anybody who has ever connected to the internet) I hope that the anger found in the #twitterjoketrial hashtag on Twitter will spill over into the streets, bringing awareness (peacefully!) of these issues to the wider public and demanding changes to a broken law system.

It might seem like this is just a silly trial about a guy that made a stupid bomb joke, but it’s actually a pivotal moment in UK history.

In the 21st century the Luddites are the government and the judiciary. Two hundred years ago they were wrong and they’re wrong today. I wrote something back in April that still applies:

What a lot of these politicians don’t realise, and neither do the big media corporations, is that the Internet is coming for them. They can legislate as much as they like but it won’t make a difference. It’s coming and it absolutely will not stop, ever, until there’s a new order, whether in a year, ten years or fifty years. They can either ride with us or be swept aside.

Paul Chambers’ appeal is today

I wrote about Paul Chambers back in May, a few months after he’d been convicted or sending a threatening message via Twitter by the CPS, resulting in him losing his job and receiving a criminal record.

While Paul’s conviction is worrying enough as it is, given the obviously jokey and hyperbolic nature of his tweet, the wider implications are yet more severe. Particularly:

  1. Security staff, police and – primarily – the Crown Prosecution Service seem to be incapable of distinguishing between a harmless joke (even if it was in poor taste) and a serious terrorist threat. This not only means that innocent people like Paul get prosecuted over nothing but that the authorities have almost no chance of identifying and stopping real terrorists. Why do we give such incompetent organisations the responsibility of protecting us, both from external and internal threats? It would seem that the CPS’ woeful lack of comprehension of human behaviour and their abuse of the justice system are far greater threats than isolated terrorists.
  2. The nature of the conviction in this case means that anybody can be convicted of the same offence if they write down a similar message in a digital form. Crucially, intent and context do not matter, according to the judge. In other words, simply quoting Paul’s tweet in a blog so as to discuss the case could actually get you convicted of the same thing. This hasn’t happened, yet, but it does serve to highlight the flimsy and ridiculous situation of Paul’s conviction. Should the government or the CPS be slightly less jovial than the current one, however, these laws would give them the power to crack down on any digital communications they even vaguely disliked.

Paul’s appeal is today.

Anybody that likes being able to communicate via digital messages (email, Facebook, twitter, text messages, video, music…you name it) has an interest in this case.

If you’d like to offer Paul some support, at 10am there will be a minor flurry of civil disobedience on Twitter. At that point anybody so inclined should tweet the following:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! #twitterjoketrial Will the police now arrest me?

That is a line from Betjeman’s celebrated poem ‘Slough’. By the same application of law that convicted Paul Chambers, simply quoting Betjeman can get you arrested, charge and convicted as well.

The point, of course, is to highlight the absurdity of Paul’s conviction and how it simply cannot stand. The aim is to highlight how intent and conviction are always of utmost importance, far more so than the individual words.

Here’s hoping that today’s appeal goes well for Paul. This is a test case that will tell us a lot about how the UK’s legal system views the internet and 21st century communications in general.