Police Ask Blogger To Take Down Tweets Critical Of UK Political Party

from the officers-admit-to-being-not-entirely-sure-what's-all-this-then dept

The UK’s free speech laws are so riddled with exceptions that news of someone being investigated for an “offensive” posting hardly raises an eyebrow these days. This fact doesn’t make the following story any less ridiculous, but it does explain why “tweeting” and “police officers” are being used in the same sentence.

Michael Abberton, a Cambridgeshire blogger, found himself talking to two police officers after a recent tweet of his made a UKIP (UK Independent Party) member feel bad. What Abberton posted to his Twitter feed was a fact-checked version of an anti-UKIP flyer that mockingly pointed out ten reasons to vote for the party, including the plan to raise taxes on the poorest 88% of the country and abolish laws that protect personal liberties.

According to Abberton, a complaint from an unnamed person led to the following incident.

They wondered if I was the Michael Abberton on Twitter and I said yes. Then they said this was in relation to a complaint that had been made by a certain political party in relation to tweets I had published about them and one tweet in particular which talked about ten reasons to vote for them…

The police explained that I hadn’t broken any law – there was no charge to answer and it really wasn’t a police matter.

They asked me to ‘take it down’ but I said I couldn’t do that as it had already been retweeted and appropriated, copied, many times and I no longer had any control of it (I had to explain to one of the officers what Twitter was and how it worked). They said that they couldn’t force me to take it down anyway.

So, if the police could do nothing and it wasn’t really a law enforcement issue, why did they bother showing up? Abberton points out that the officers, though being incredibly polite and almost embarrassed, couldn’t really explain why they were standing in his house discussing Twitter posts.

Abberton then asked if he was forbidden to tweet about his conversation with the police.

I asked if I could tweet about the visit. The straight answer was ‘no’, as this might appear prejudicial in light of the upcoming election and the police must appear to remain neutral. But they couldn’t stop me from doing so, as I had Freedom of Speech. Incredulously, I said, “…but you must realise how this looks!

Everyone realizes how this looks. It looks as though someone at UKIP has enough pull to persuade the local police department to drop by and have a chat with someone it perceives to be an annoyance. Abberton’s tweet simply fact-checked some anti-UKIP handout, something which was a clearly neutral undertaking. That he found a majority of the claims to be supported by UKIP’s own documents may be damning for UKIP, but that problem originates with the party, not with Abberton’s detective work.

A police spokesman tried to deflect criticism from the department’s actions, first by claiming routine complaints are routinely investigated, and then by claiming the police were not a censorious force.

“[A] gentleman has a right to free speech – absolute total right to free speech – we can’t tell people what they can and can’t say on the internet, as long as it’s within the law. We certainly don’t go to people’s houses and say: ‘You can’t tweet about this’. This is not 1930s Germany.”

No, it isn’t “1930s Germany.” But that’s hardly comforting when police are, in fact, going to people’s houses and asking them to remove tweets.

Does this ring a bell?

They asked me to ‘take [the tweet] down’…

Sometimes all it takes is a little “friendly persuasion” from law enforcement officers to get the intended result, whether or not the justification is legal. Despite everyone in the police department claiming they had no power to make people remove tweets, tweets were removed.

And whilst acknowledging the fact that the police had no right to censure my posts, in order to show goodwill I removed all instances of the poster where I’d sent it @someone, and have not tweeted about the visit or about that political party since.

The tactic worked anyway, and this outcome is probably better than the UKIP complainant probably expected. So, you don’t have to be literally 1930s Germany to get the same results. All you have to do is allow political power to guide your police force and hope that goodwill efforts will achieve the completely unenforceable outcome the complainant is seeking.

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Comments on “Police Ask Blogger To Take Down Tweets Critical Of UK Political Party”

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jameshogg says:

The fact that UKIP, a fringe but somehow still mainstream party, should now quite rightly have their own manifesto consisting of extremist nonsense subjected to a Streisand effect but haven’t had it subjected to such effect already shows how worrying the situation is here in the U.K.

The E.U. is worth defending. Don’t let these tits have their way just because of an older population’s nostalgia for the glorious Britain that never existed.

We’ve never had it so fucking good compared to generations before. I’m not prepared to allow xenophobic plus nationalistic tendencies to run rampant based on the most reactionary of reductionisms. All nationalism is suspect and all glorification of lost traditions for their own sakes deserve hostility.

And I am sorry to say that as a Scottish citizen, that goes for Alex Salmond’s shit-stirring, too.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problems with europe simply mirror those that exist anyway with national governments. All other things being equal bigger entities tend to be fairer and have better free speech rights than smaller ones.

Oddly enough UKIP has some good policies (and/or has voted sensibly in the european parliament) on patents, drug legalisation and copyright.

jameshogg says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If that were true, I would still not support them. There is such a thing as prioritising. Copyright, however much I want it abolished, does not get in the way of more important political matters. Same with the drug war. There will come a time when we will naturally swing in the opposite direction of those status quos as the Zeitgeist moves forward and as people really see how futile the current policies are (it is happening rather rapidly now with cannabis legislation), and political opinion will in turn shift.

I say the same about Ron Paul. When I first heard of him, I was initially seduced by his tough stance in favour of abolishing the drug war. However, that support soon faded when I heard of his other policies. He wants the rights of female bodies taken away from them based on the notion that the cells of a conceived female egg are far more vital than those of a non-conceieved egg (if abortion is murder, masturbation is infanticide). He thinks that monopolies can ONLY come from state interference, as if the concepts of the merger and takeover were non-existent, never mind the price-fixing tendencies of corporations. He wants to privatise the U.S. Education Department. He thinks global warming is a hoax and won’t even attempt to try and stop it. And many others.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes – I agree with what you say – however I will take one more pragmatic step.

It is a fact that UKIP have zero chance of any significant representation in the House of Commons (where they might be dangerous). However they are well represented in the European parliament (ironically) because of the voting system. Now the European parliament has zero influence on any of the issues where UKIP policies are bad – but has significant influence over copyrights and patents – where UKIP has consistently had better policies than the thre main parties. So I don’t worry about their bad policies when voting in the european elections. I would never vote for them in a UK parliament election though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You should worry though, because even on “policies” that they have that are alright(they don’t really have any but they have claimed to have some) as they don’t really bother attending or voting then they are at best abstaining where greens, pirates, plaid cymru etc would be voting against the overreaches on patents and copyrights.

Deputy Dickwad says:

This citizen sure is lucky...

…that I don’t have an family over there doing law enforcement to the populace.

If i was called to straighten out this “citizen” you better bet it would be straightened out!

You wouldn’t be reading about a twitter post, ’cause it would all be about the furtive movement and how I felt threatened and had to shoot the muth-fucka, and his little dog too!

Anonymous Coward says:

someone is taking lessons from the US! and i bet it wont be long before Cameron has got in on this and expanded the Internet ‘filters’ to cover any sort of bad mouthing (without outright swearing, that is) of the Conservative Party or members there of! not bad for one of the ‘most open societies in the world that keeps free speech and privacy at the forefront of it’s beliefs’!! who are you trying to kid??

That One Guy (profile) says:

Come again?

We certainly don’t go to people’s houses and say: ‘You can’t tweet about this’. This is not 1930s Germany.”

But. They. Did. That’s the entire reason that this got attention, they did send police to someone’s house to tell them not to tweet about something, and then when the individual asked if they could tweet about that, they were again told ‘No you may not.’

They may not have had a legal charge handy to threaten the person who posted the tweet, but it takes someone pretty blind not to see the implied threat when you get two cops knocking at your door for posting something. Sure they were nice and friendly that time, but the fact that they were there at all is a pretty solid indication that the one who sent them has some hefty pull with the police, and I don’t imagine future visits would be so cordial if the recipient of the visits refused to back down.

jameshogg says:

“I asked if I could tweet about the visit. The straight answer was ‘no’, as this might appear prejudicial in light of the upcoming election.”

Okay so… police asking an anti-UKIP blogger to remove his tweet – not on a legal basis but an intimidation basis – is in no way being prejudicial, but the very act of telling people about this non-prejudicial visit… is prejudicial?

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, strange this, that “libertarianism” constantly gets muddled up with things like the Tea Party.

The very same Tea Party who:
– oppose right to abortion
– tighter border controls
– oppose gay marriage or civil unions

Actually, all this is called authoritarianism, and is the opposite of libertarianism. Same with the UKIP.

I'm_Having_None_Of_It says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Seegras, have you ever heard of Ron Paul? Apparently, his policies the opposite of Libertarianism.

I’m actually friendly with some Americans who can best be described as “Libertarian Lite.” I find that I agree with them, and this seems to be what the Pirate Party is about, so I agree with them, too.

I’ll be voting Pirate in the European elections.

I'm_Having_None_Of_It says:

Re: Re:

Zakida, have you read the Libertarian website? The right-wing Libertarians are authoritarian by nature which means they do the opposite of what they say.

UKIP are supply-siders, which many Libertarians subscribe to.

Sorry, I’m not a fan of the Libertarian movement, it just seems to be about bringing back the Dickensian mess that gave us Socialism, then the Winter of Discontent, then Thatcher.

sorrykb (profile) says:

police spokesman tried to deflect criticism from the department’s actions… “We certainly don’t go to people’s houses and say: ‘You can’t tweet about this’. This is not 1930s Germany.”

Time-traveling technology notwithstanding, it’s worth noting that the spokesman preemptively Godwinized this discussion before we even had a chance to do so.

On a more serious note…

“the police must appear to remain neutral”

Is it too much to ask that the police, fairly concerned about appearing neutral, attempt (as a first step) actually to be neutral? People can’t much enjoy their freedom of speech if exercising it results in a visit from the police.

RD says:

Re: Re:

“On a more serious note…

“the police must appear to remain neutral”

Is it too much to ask that the police, fairly concerned about appearing neutral, attempt (as a first step) actually to be neutral? People can’t much enjoy their freedom of speech if exercising it results in a visit from the police.”

No, no, no! You misunderstand their very straightforward meaning. Here, let me rephrase and emphasize so you will understand:

The police must keep up the APPEARANCE of being neutral, appearances being all that matters. In actuality, pure intimidation actions such as what happened to this bloke are de rigueur SOP, as long as the APPEARANCE is maintained by denying or stating the opposite of the actual actions.

Hope that helps clear things up.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

I can see the future of this trend...

I hope no politician in the US dares to do this..because it’s scary to think that anytime you tweet anything bad or negative about them, they’d sic the cops on you or have them intimidate you to take it down.

Yes, Godwin’s Law invoked, but batshit crazy all over the place, including cops’ reactions to the complaint.

“It can’t happen here.”

Anastasia says:

Police Ask Blogger To Take Down Tweets Critical Of UK Political Party

I’m a UKIP member.
It is through disillusionment with the mainstream parties in the UK. It doesn’t mean I support all of the fruitcakes in UKIP, any more than it means I support the mainstream party members who have been found guilty of fraud, child abuse or other serious crimes.

In simple fact I would be surprised were there not UKIP members who had done (conjointly) all of the above offences, even if not successfully prosecuted for the offences.

So despite the sarcastic comments please note that there is one assumption which is not proven, and that is that it was a UKIP member who complained to the police.

That provocation exists in the political book of dirty tricks is a well known fact.

Now even if it were a UKIP member who complained that would not mean that the actions of the member were the policy of UKIP. In the UK we have had politicians and supporters of all parties who have extended the line of acceptable behaviour into fields that could politely be called unacceptable.

As far as the action of the Police officers concerned – in the UK the police will often ask if a dispute can be resolved amicably. There is no intention to make a judgement in law – they are simply saying that a particular action has caused upset; is there a way in which it could easily be remedied.

So the police were exactly correct when they said no offence had been committed – they were merely seeing if “good neighbourliness” could take away any particular irritation.

With regard to the comment about an election – in about 2 weeks there will be the elections to the European parliament in which UKIP will probably get the single largest number of seats.

Police officers are particularly instructed in the run up to elections to take no actions that could be seen as partial. As such they had to say they could not condone, which is not the same as ban, nor could they endorse any action taken by that individual.

You will note that they did not say, and indeed clarified that they could not and would not control the individuals actions. Nor did they threaten the individual with “consequences”.

All in all, quite a non story. There may be a question of judgment made by a superior officer, in the officers being sent to the household, but again, just as we have nuts in the parties, so do we have over zealous officers, sometimes of quite senior rank in the police force.

It seems to me that whilst the officers concerned made a house call which they were required to do, they conducted themselves with honesty, equity and integrity.

Any Stasis (you are).

Loki says:

Re: Police Ask Blogger To Take Down Tweets Critical Of UK Political Party

So the police were exactly correct when they said no offence had been committed – they were merely seeing if “good neighbourliness” could take away any particular irritation.

Well except for the fact that an offense HAS been commited. Someone with the authority to send law enforcement, no matter how polite they may be, to request you self-censor political speech is an implied threat and an attempt at intimidation from the sender, regardless of whether the law enforcement officers intend it to be or not.

All in all, definitely not a non issue, because the real issue isn’t the cops but the person who sent them. Nor do I consider “just doing my job” an excuse for bad behavior. In 25 years, nobody has ever convinced me to do my job the wrong way, and anyone who’s tried to force the issue hasn’t had me around long.

If you can’t handle having your policies (whether party, industry or individually) criticized you probably shouldn’t be in a position of authority.

If you aren’t willing to spend the time debunking inaccurate or fraudulent criticism (especially considering the time some of us spend debunking inaccurate or fraudlent claims made by some of those same politicians and industry lobbyists) they also probably shouldn’t be in a position of authority.

Jake says:

Re: Police Ask Blogger To Take Down Tweets Critical Of UK Political Party

It doesn’t mean I support all of the fruitcakes in UKIP…

I hate to break it to you, but it kind of does mean you support them. If you’re a member of UKIP, you are signalling that those are the kinds of people you’re comfortable associating with; if you can’t -or won’t- weed out the crypo-fascists and bigots before they make fools of themselves in public then it reflects on all of you, whether you like it or not.

R U SERIOUS! says:

EU is a joke! EUSSR!

All you people thinking we got it good! Are you retarded or just that ignorant in your hubris that you can’t see the eussr is once again a Vatican ran project just lime all the other bullshit including the USA! They run the show and the EU is intended for you to support while they destroy most of the world in ww3 and you will all run to them to save you! Like the sheep you are!

Ignorance of the holy roman empire will be all your downfalls! Even the Rothschild’s are puppets in the bigger picture! See how they laugh at you all because you argue over the points they want you too while getting on with their plans of divide and conquer and swoop in to ‘save the day’ and you all will fall for this bullshit, as you have time and time again in the past

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: EU is a joke! EUSSR!

Don’t agree at all with “Vatican” reference – “batshit crazy” indeed.

But I really like the “EUSSR” acronym.

Case in point today: Headline – “Google must delete your data if you ask, EU rules”
Europe?s top court has backed the controversial ?right to be forgotten? but experts doubt it will work in practice

EU is moving toward a totalitarian state…just try and tweet something “mean” – the “Human Rights” turds will show up…

Anonymous Coward says:

To any readers outside england/wales, there is an election coming up may 2015 here so there will be a ramp up of batshit crazy stuff coming out. Especially with regards to technology/politics. Sorry in advance for this. It is most likely going to be a dirty election as it is tight and all the parties are shite in there own way.

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