That’s not really funny

One of my favourite jokes: a kiddie-fiddler and a child are walking through the woods. “I’m scared!” cries the child. “You’re scared?” retorts the kiddie-fiddler. “I have to walk back alone!”

Like many such jokes, the sheer awfulness of it is what makes it funny – but would it still be funny if I tweeted it because a real child had gone missing?

Last night, as six people lay dead in Glasgow’s George Square after a terrible accident, a parody account on Twitter ( @hackneyabbatt) tweeted a joke about the lorry crash causing £3 of damage. It wasn’t very funny, but more importantly the timing was crass and insensitive: people searching Twitter for news of the deaths in George Square, a situation that was still ongoing – the bodies hadn’t been removed at the time and as I write this, their identities haven’t been revealed yet – would see it.

I was one of a few people who replied to the poster – “shame on you”, in my case – and hoped they might realise they’d been a bit of a dick; it’s easy to post something on the internet thinking it’s funny without thinking of who it might upset. The poster deleted the tweet and went off in a huff.

But I think somebody called the police. According to The Drum:

Northumbria Police have announced that they are investigating a crass joke published on Twitter, since deleted, poking fun at yesterday’s bin lorry crash in Glasgow in which six people died and eight were injured.

If it’s the same post, and I’m assuming it is, that’s all kinds of wrong. The post was insensitive, yes, but the poster wasn’t responding to anybody or hurling abuse: they were just making the kind of off-colour joke they’d make to friends in the pub, posting something they thought was hilarious. There are lots of things online the police should take more seriously, but that isn’t one of them.

11 thoughts on “That’s not really funny

  1. David says:

    It’s not the same tweet – similar vein. Guy tweeted about the lorry “picking up trash”. Was sent death threats and his account was deleted almost immediately. He’s from the north-east, which tallies with the news reports.

    I don’t think the police should be investigating it, but I also don’t think the police should investigate it if one of the relatives punches him in the face.

    I got blocked by that account (the fake MP one) cos I tweeted that they’d crossed a line which was why people were upset.

  2. Gary says:

    Ah, I hadn’t seen that one, that makes slightly more sense. But yeah, that’s not criminal behaviour either.

  3. Squander Two says:

    > I don’t think the police should be investigating it, but I also don’t think the police should investigate it if one of the relatives punches him in the face.

    Exactly, yes. It seemed like such a good idea to make all assault completely criminal, but having the police investigate every punch-up seems to have had the side-effect of having the police investigate every single bloody thing. There have been a lot of cases in the last few years of the police and CPS wasting time and money on cases that would once have been sorted out by a well deserved punch in the face.

  4. Gary says:

    It’s getting quite bad online, people demanding the police be involved because their feelings are hurt.

  5. Gary says:

    I’m assuming it’d be under S1 of the malicious communications act and the later communications act 2003. From the CPS:

    “Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send or cause to be sent through a “public electronic communications network” a message or other matter that is “grossly offensive” or of an “indecent, obscene or menacing character”. The same section also provides that it is an offence to send or cause to be sent a false message “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another”. The defendant must be shown to have intended or be aware that the message was grossly offensive, indecent or menacing, which can be inferred from the terms of the message or from the defendant’s knowledge of the likely recipient. The offence is committed by sending the message. There is no requirement that any person sees the message or be offended by it.”

    That last line is the killer.

  6. Armin says:

    Hm, well, yes, that seems to cover pretty much everything. Quite likely also some of the “hunters” for him on Facebook, Twitter etc. Some of the threats there were quite menacing.
    The police will be very busy if they have to follow up on all this.

  7. Mupwangle says:

    I’m sure I’d seen some guidelines somewhere that swift removal of the tweet counts as “showing remorse” and is a valid defence – ie tweeter didn’t mean to offend and didn’t realise how offensive it was until it was pointed out.

    >>Not sure what they’re going to charge him with though.

    They should show him the CCTV of the morgue when the relatives came in to ID the bodies of their parents and kid. No need for criminal proceedings.

    People say smartarse insensitive things like that to their mates in the pub all the time. These people also forget that twitter isn’t the same as speaking to your mates in the pub. It’s more like standing on a street corner with a megaphone.

  8. Gary says:

    Yeah, it’s hardly the best use of police resources. I’m not saying they shouldn’t police online aggression – of course they should – but there does appear to be a “trolls! Get ’em!” atmosphere at the moment where things are being taken far too seriously.

  9. Gary says:

    A few days on, Police Scotland has tweeted to say that it’s watching social media and “offensive” tweets will be “investigated”.

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