Twitter, threats of violence and fake certainty

Tweeting about politics, I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair few more than robust messages (and I dare say that, despite my attempts to keep civil, there’s a tweet or two I’ve sent that didn’t read right or were badly phrased).

When it comes to messages appearing to threaten my physical safety, I’ve had two.

How seriously they should have been taken, I still frankly don’t know. One looked very serious – but was from someone who as far as I could tell was in a different country to me and not about to travel. The other seemed fairly clearly to be a case of someone with serious health issues – though whether that means they are more or less likely to do some stupid or illegal, I can only guess.

That lack of certainty on my part is despite having been able to read the messages to me in full and knowing exactly what messagesĀ precededĀ and succeeded them. In other words, that lack of certainty occurred despite me knowing far more about the situation than almost any of us do when there’s a media story about police investigating tweets which have been deleted.

I can also sympathise with the police taking the view that ‘if in doubt, check it out’. Imagine the horrific reaction there would be if someone did come to physical harm, or worse, after receiving an apparent threat on Twitter which had been dismissed as self-evidently trivial and not worthy of police time to look into.

That is why, although plenty of others seem to have jumped to firm views about the rights and wrongs of the Tom Daley story and arrest, I haven’t – beyond the feeling of huge sympathy for him and awe at his skill as a sportsman.

I know I don’t know how to judge properly the seriousness of apparently threatening messages, so much more needs to come out before I can sensibly make a judgement on whether this is a case of sensible policing or over-the-top illiberal policing. Especially as much of the news coverage refers to only the one tweet, but from what I’ve seen of the story more than one is involved.

So count me out of the rush to fake certainty.