Being A Jackass On Twitter Shouldn't Be Illegal; Public Shame Should Be Enough

from the there's-no-fire-in-that-theater dept

We’ve been talking about the unfortunate set of cases in the UK lately, in which people acting like jackasses online are being held criminally liable for being a jerk online. There are, of course, significant problems with this. And if you thought it was just limited to Europe, where they tend to have a slightly less absolute view of the right to free expression than the US, well, don’t be so sure. There’s a lot of talk about whether or not legal action should be taken against one jackass who used Twitter (using the account @comfortablysmug — which, perhaps, should have been a tipoff) to spread fake news about emergencies and damages, while most people were sharing legitimate news. The guy in question was eventually outed by Buzzfeed as hedge-fund analyst and political consultant Shashank Tripathi.

While some big name news organizations initially retweeted some of his claims — such as the false news that the NY Stock Exchange had flooded — others quickly corrected the reports, and, as some have noted, Twitter seemed to do a pretty good job of self-correcting the bogus claims that popped up. Of course, those who wish to argue that legal action needs to be taken compare the bogus tweets to the classic “yelling fire in a crowded theater” argument, in which the speech can then put people in danger or incite violence. It seems unlikely that any charges would actually hold up in the long run, but that might not stop attempts to go after Tripathi under the law (this is the US, after all, where our second national pastime after shouting about politics is filing questionable lawsuits).

But it’s unclear what good that would actually do, other than potentially leading to bad precedents for other forms of speech. It seems that existing social structures already take care of the bad speech here. Tripathi’s identity was revealed by others, and his actions are now closely associated with his name. He now needs to live with the social consequences of his statements, and that seems like it should be more than enough. And, indeed, the response online has been to absolutely slam him for his actions.

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Comments on “Being A Jackass On Twitter Shouldn't Be Illegal; Public Shame Should Be Enough”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I expect that his tenure in both positions might end up in jeopardy.
How can investors in the hedgefund have any faith in what he tells them as he’s shown himself to lie for kicks.
How can people trust the politician he consults for given his inability to separate fantasy from reality and creating havoc during an emergency. Would you vote for someone who takes advice from someone like that?

Eric Jaffa (profile) says:

RE “the US, after all, where our second national pastime after shouting about politics is filing questionable lawsuits”

That’s propaganda from right-wing politicians who don’t want people injured by medical malpractice to get fair compensation.

The problem is too FEW people in the US get their day in court.

Torture victims are prevented from suing by the 2006 Military Commissions Act.

Warrantless wiretapping victims are prevented from suing by retroactive immunity for phone/internet companies in the FISA Act of 2008.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Way to slam out the “Right Wing” portion…

Amazing, on a topic where Right/Left/Middle could find some ground to come together (i know shocking right, but all sides seem to think at least their speech should be protected) about and issue, you instantly polarize it for no other reason to spew your rant about your hot topic…

troll points +5, Useful points -10

Anonymous Coward says:

Moral of the story? Don’t rely on complete strangers for your safety tips.

Let the professionals handle that.


** Turns at the professionals **

…you there. Don’t treat twitter as a reliable communication mechanism. And if someone is really in danger, they won’t have time to log into their computer to update their Failbook profile or twit about how they are drowning. They’ll call you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“911 in NYC was experiencing delays.”

So your solution is to turn to an unreliable medium? What about, I dunno, calling friends and family and have them relay info about your emergency to the proper authorities?

“Also, you don’t need to login to a computer to use Twitter and Facebook.”

Just try to write directions to where you are sitting right now using the input interface in your fancy-pants phone. Count how much time that takes.

Something that takes 5 seconds to say out loud will take you a minute to write on your fancy-pants phone/tablet. And each second you spend struggling with the auto-complete and touch input is one second you have less to save yourself and those that matter to you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Pretty sure twitter and FB have geo-tagging. It certainly would be faster than trying to describe to an operator where I was if I were not familiar with the place.

Also how long do you take to type a text? Pretty sure people of that demographic (teenage girls) get pretty impressive wpm on their phones…

akp says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There have been documented cases where a Twitter post has summoned help faster than 911. Especially in cases that *aren’t* that time sensitive. If I have several hours before my situation is truly critical, then I might post on Twitter to local friends, or text or something else. I may not need to tie up a 911 call, preventing someone in a more dire situation than me from getting through.

And tweets *can* be geo-tagged automatically, with GPS coordinates. Emergency responders could actually find someone *more* reliably that way, especially if the person in trouble isn’t sure where they are exactly (tourists, etc)

Also, you may be interested in this:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Actually it should go like this:

** Turns at the professionals **

…you there. Twitter can be a source of information, opinion, etc. A single tweet, however, should be treated as a single source. You should have some feel reguarding the reliability of a single source of information.

Otherwise you end up with reports like this with people, and perhaps your peers, wondering what are the standards of your profession.

Zakida Paul says:

The way things are going, it will not be long before dissenting political views online are punished and people fighting a peaceful revolution using the Internet will be criminalised. The West dream of the kind of censorship seen in China/Iran/Syria etc and please do not say that they don’t.

Let me remind you all that those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: His Apology.

Well he clearly screwed the candidate because he got caught.
He isn’t sorry for his actions, hes sorry he got caught.
People in that area will attach this idiots name to the candidate, remember the problems he called on twitter and avoid the candidate. Bonus points for doing it so close to the election so the media cycle can’t possibly churn it away.

Lord Binky says:

Re: it was laziness on the part of CNN and others

But if it wasn’t fake they would have been heroes! or something.

From their point of view, if they didn’t report it and someone else did, and it wasn’t fake, they would have missed out because they were cautious. So screw caution.

My favorite so far is the news people standing right next to still visibly shouldering houses ,etc. saying how bad the smell is, pointing out firemen are still in the area (wearing their masks). They’re really trying for that darwin award arent they?

Chad says:

Rule of thumb...

General rule of thumb: Don’t be a dick.

I’m definitely supportive of freedom of speech in any country and in any circumstance, but as a general rule of thumb: don’t be a dick. Problem solved. Why? Because people will hate you, and throw the law to the wind to get back at you.

Worried about something happening to you after you say some jackass statement? Here’s a pro tip using an old adage: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That’s a pretty safe bet, and it’s getting to that point really. You can’t say anything controversial or wrong because you’ll be hung out to dry.

Here’s a scenario for you: If you find yourself in a horrible situation while standing on a bridge and you tell everyone around you to jump off the bridge because all hope is lost while knowing full well that rescue is literally minutes away, are you responsible if people jump to their deaths? No… but you’re a dick, and if the lynch mob comes for you after, don’t say I didn’t warn you. If the leader of the lynch mob happens to hold keys to the jail, then you’ll probably end up there regardless of what the law says.

Should it be illegal? Nope. Will people face charges or other penalties regardless? Yep… and probably deserve it because they didn’t follow that simple rule of thumb. I don’t mind that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Here’s the problem with not prosecuting. In this case, there was one person giving false information, but other people corrected him right away. Next time, other people may, in a panic, just say “I heard this” without attributing the source for other people to check. Or multiple people may think it’s fun to spread misinformation. When the false information becomes widespread, people may rely on it.

The question I have is: If his false information would have been believed, would it have put people in danger? If the answer is yes, then he should be prosecuted for recklessly endangering safety, or something similar. If the answer is no, then let him go, (but how about he never gets hired in those fields again.) Free speech doesn’t extend to objectively false statements which put people’s lives in immediate danger. You can only yell “Fire” in the crowded theater if the theater is actually on fire.

And since he’s a hedge fund manager, the FTC should ALSO investigate whether his false statements were meant to impact his investments. I don’t think you’re allowed to lie to manipulate prices.

btr1701 says:

Re: Re:

> would it have put people in danger? If
> the answer is yes, then he should be
> prosecuted for recklessly endangering
> safety, or something similar.

This is all well and good when we’re talking about a guy who’s *in* New York, but if the guy is tweeting from, say, Arizona, then what?

New York authorities wouldn’t even have jurisdiction over him, because the alleged crime (the tweet) was committed in another state. And even Arizona would have a hard time prosecuting him because there was no state of emergency in Arizona at the time which would justify restrictions on his speech.

And things get even more complicated/impossible if the guy is tweeting his shenanigans from another country.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Mostly agree, but I think the bar is set so that the prosecution has to show that his statements has actually caused harm to other people.

I believe that showing that there was only a potential of causing harm is not enough.

Yelling fire in that crowded theater and nobody reacting won’t do it. Causing harm to himself, as this is the case here, won’t do it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why do people feel like it should be illegal compared to shaming him?

Whenever these things come up, the biggest difference that comes to mind is that if the actions are ?illegal? then someone else has to deal with the problem and while people maintain their warm fuzzy feelings that the guy is going to get what he deserves.

So every time I see this, people suggesting being a jackass should be illegal, come off as just really damn lazy. If what he did was truly so unacceptable, you don?t have to rely on the law to let his employer know that you don?t approve of them hiring people of this quality, make a note on your calendar to do it again next year if you?re serious and this isn?t just jumping onto the ? I don?t like to hear offensive things, make it illegal? lazy wagon.

If it is truly socially unacceptable, then you?ll have thousands of people making sure this guy knows what he did isn?t ok next year, but that would take effort on people?s part and they would rather just pay to have the guy give up some money, or pay to keep him separated from society for a time.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Fire in a crowded theater...

I’ve always been skeptical about this law. Let’s think about the classic example…someone shouts “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. What do you honestly expect is going to happen? Everyone is going to flee for the exits, trampling women and children?

Yeah, right. Everyone is going to look around, see there isn’t a fire, and tell the idiot to shut up and stop talking in a movie. Heck, even if there was a fire half the theater would walk calmly out and the other half would probably walk over and stare at the flames like idiots.

Just last week in Hawaii there was a tsunami warning and half of Honolulu went down onto the beach to watch the water receed. Thankfully there was only a six-foot draw but these guys KNEW that there was potential danger.

This is just like when people said Wikipedia would never work because people would go in and add bogus information to all the pages. Does that happen? Sure. But then 50 more people call out their BS and it goes away.

Let’s be perfectly honest here. Can anyone think of a single social issue, ever, that has been solved solely by making more laws? Sure, some of these issues had laws regarding them as well, but it was always pressure from society that actually made the change.

Wally (profile) says:

Once again...

Once again I must emphasize to the non-Americans and the few Americans who seem to be blind to the facts.

Inducing panic and trolling do not constitute first amendment rights being exercised in the case. Public shame or not, freedom of expression does not include giving false information that would lead to risking the lives of those involved. People went to the NYSE building to see if the Exchange Floor was flooded and to recur anyone trapped inside. For those who cannot seem to grasp the concept, it is quite dangerous rescuing people in a skyscraper laden landscape during a hurricane. The wind eddies and picks up much faster on the ground due to narrowed pathways for air to move.

I for one am glad at how quickly the news broadcasters handled it. Just to be safe they waited for rescue workers to safely determine the claim. Those false tweets pulled them away from keeping an eye on actual peoples’ safety. It’s equivalent to filing a false police report.

He has got to pay for his crime. Apology or not he did something he shouldn’t have done.

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