Social Media: The law according to His Honour Lord Justice Spock
Posted by Dave Hasney
When it comes to the law, the topic of humour is getting in some deep doggy do of late. As we all know, ‘the law can be an ass’ sometimes, so it’s hardly surprising that it doesn’t understand funny, perhaps a lot of our judiciary are descended from Vulcan roots?
Al Murray is one of several high-profile comedians arguing in favour of the right to make jokes on Twitter – however bad – without fear of legal overreaction. He (and many others) are asking; is it right that someone should become subject of legal proceedings because of a “not particularly funny” joke?
As an erstwhile pedlar of some not particularly funny jokes just ask the Guardians comedy critic, he doesn’t dig what I do at all, this matters to me a great deal…(Al Murray – The Guardian)
In the now infamous Twitter Joke Trial, which has become something of a cause celebre, mainly due to the fact, as one columnist put it in The Guardian recently (see here); “it punctures the comforting illusion that Britain is a moderate country” – In my opinion we’re simply stuffing the bird again. It’s either out of a pure fear of the power in social media or, a simple misunderstanding of the platform and it’s capabilities.
A worrying factor that fits within this broad topic is; recourse via our judicial system for libelous, inflammatory, let alone humourous comments posted within social networks, seems to be dependent upon who the ‘victim’ is, what their ethnicity is and importantly, how much money they have to pay for any challenge to what has been said or implied. Remember the footballer and his (alleged) affairs. Is it right to seek to control the opinion of another by legal means, simply because you don’t like what you hear or see?
And whilst on that train of thought. When we consider the rights and wrongs of what people say (from a purely legal basis) via Twitter et al, how can it OK for some Islamic fundamentalist to actively promote “death to the infidel” free of prosecution yet, some less than intelligent idiot makes comment about the ethnicity of footballers (see here), and he falls foul of our laws? Let me be clear however; as I’ve said before, I neither condone or support racism in any shape or form, from whichever side of the ethnic fence it originated.
But back to the rights and wrongs of the humour aspect of this post. People of all ages and cultures respond to humour, people are able to experience humour, i.e., to be amused, to laugh or smile at something funny, and when they do they are considered to have a sense of humour. Whether or not you find something funny is ultimately decided by your personal taste, this is wholly dependent upon a host of variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence and context. The person lacking any sense of humour would likely find the behaviour induced by humour to be inexplicable, strange, or even irrational.
The manner in which the law is being applied to social media is something reminiscent of a Klingon invasion of our human need/desire to express an opinion… As Mr Spock, the now famous half-Vulcan Science and First Officer of the Starship Enterprise would have retorted – “It’s Highly Illogical Captain” – perhaps some of our judiciary trained at Starfleet Command?
- Al Murray on the Twitter joke trial: ‘Problem is, the law don’t do funny’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Judgment reserved in Twitter airport threat appeal (guardian.co.uk)
- Twitter Joke Trial: Judges Don’t Get Social Media, Says Stephen Fry (mashable.com)
- Must read posts on the TwitterJokeTrial appeal (newstatesman.com)
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