Daley tweeter shows sad state of our society

This week, Olympian Tom Daley disappointed the nation as he and his partner narrowly missed out on a medal position, finishing 4th in their synchronised final. However, more noticeably, a 17-year-old Twitter user was arrested for sending ‘abusive messages’ to the young diver. While these tweets were indeed slightly offensive and definitely uncalled for, this shows quite how rare the freedom to speak is in the United Kingdom.

Daley’s father tragically died of brain cancer last year at the age of just 40, and ‘Rileyy_69’ rather appallingly used this as a means of getting at him, tweeting; “You let your dad down i hope you know that.” A retweet by Daley himself lead to a huge backlash by the Olympian’s followers, leading to a hashtag popping up in an attempt to get the offender banned from the micro-blogging website. He did apologise, but then proceeded to send further abusive tweets after he became aware of the large and worldwide trending campaign against him.

Quite rightly, Daley was offended. Who wouldn’t be? Whether such a large mass protests against ‘Rileyy_69’ was necessary is debatable. On one hand, it has nothing to do with most of the people who started ‘trending’ the campaign against him – I seriously doubt a single one of them had ever met either of the two people involved in this row. Nonetheless, as fans and followers of Daley, you can argue it was merely a show of support for one of Britain’s brightest Olympic prospects (He is still only 18, after all).

Daley being offended is understandable, but isn’t the issue here. Thousands of others getting offended isn’t that much of an issue either. The main issue reared its head when Dorset police arrested the teenager. Arrested? Yes, believe it or not.

Of course these tweets are disgusting, and of course they should be condemned, as they are definitely not the sort of thing we ideally want to be said in a civilised, polite society in the 21st century. However, there becomes a point when arresting a teenager and giving him a criminal record for a silly, highly regrettable and childish tweet on the internet is nothing short of absurd. It is almost as offensive as the actual tweet!

Regardless of how horrible the tweets were, we all have the right to speak freely – or so we all thought. There is nothing criminal in berating someone’s dead father. It is sick, unjust and down right nasty, but it is absolutely nothing criminal – it is just the comment of a frustrated teenager, who no doubt regrets his comments and will do for the rest of his life. A criminal record destroys one’s immediate life – something perhaps acceptable for an arsonist or a shoplifter, a rapist or a murderer. Unfortunately for this tweeter, he has fell victim to the supremacy of his fellow Twitter users.

You have to consider; if this young man had bumped into Daley in the street and spouted his vile comments – how would Daley have reacted? As a strong Olympian, you would hope that he would just dismiss the idiot as just that, blocking out the comment and moving on. I would bet a large amount of money that he wouldn’t dream of informing the police. This demonstrates the parallel British world of digital hegemony, where things said behind a computer screen can be far more damaging and ‘offensive’ than things said on the street. Dorset Police have acted like a flummoxed rabbit in headlights, rushing to make an arrest when it was completely uncalled for.

No longer, it seems, do we have the right to be offensive. Of course in an ideal society we would all be lovely and nice to each other, and there is no reason to condone the vitriolic comments of ‘Rileyy_69’, but when a teenager gets arrested for a silly comment on Twitter, you start to wonder where, if anywhere, the line is drawn.

You also have to wonder quite how Dorset Police have so much time on their hands. We hear of cuts to the police, and yet it appears that this police force is ploughing its resources into petty and unjust cases such as this. It begs the predictable question; ‘Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?’

The police have no right to monitor or punish our speech at a level like this. If the young tweeter had threatened to drop a bomb on the Aquatics Centre during Daley’s next appearance in the pool, you could understand an enquiry and possibly an arrest being made. But frankly, all he did was post an admittedly horrible comment that has absolutely no obvious criminal chime to it. It just proves that yet again, freedom of speech in the UK is being quashed yet further, and this is a sad state for society.