Joke Tweet Gets Man Arrested

from the funny-story dept

Joke tweets: the ones that land people in jail or under arrest typically aren’t all that funny, usually aren’t all that offensive or believable, and too often result in a massive overreaction that is more about emotions and cover-your-ass than about anything remotely resembling justice. From obviously not-serious jokes about blowing up an airport simply for being closed to obviously over-the-top sarcasm about the state of one’s own mind, there’s simply no reason why we must criminalize humor that deals with serious topics. Just because a joke is in bad taste, or isn’t particularly funny, shouldn’t make it illegal. Otherwise, the entire concept of comedy breaks down completely, where any topic of a joke can simply claim offense and have me the comedian arrested.

Yet it’s happened again. Over in the UK, a 19-year-old man made a mildly offensive and mildly funny joke in the wake of a garbage truck driving over a 100 people after the driver lost control. And he totally got arrested for it.

The tweet said: “So a bin lorry has apparently driven in 100 people in Glasgow eh, probably the most trash it’s picked up in one day”.

Tasteless? Meh, I guess. Funny? Eh, perhaps a tiny bit. Criminal? Oh, possibly, according to the Northumbria Police, who informed the media that the young man, Ross Loraine, was being sought on suspicion of making a malicious communication. Loraine has since made bail and is presumably shaking his head vigorously at how silly this all is.

See, the problem with magically using the law to make something “offensive” into something “malicious” is that there are no literal limits on something so subjective. Suddenly you have the Danish cartoons situation on your hands, except that the self-censorship results from the actions of a state willing to be offended on behalf of its citizens. So much so, in fact, as to allow that state to levy criminal complaints against people for thinking some stuff is funny when other people don’t. The lever that puts this insane machine into action appears to simply be “offense taken”, which puts any semblance of free speech, not to mention humor, at grave risk.

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Comments on “Joke Tweet Gets Man Arrested”

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Violynne (profile) says:

Shortly after the Challenger explosion, a local talk radio group known as Bob & Tom (now syndicated) made a joke that NASA stands for “Need Another Seven Astronauts”.

Despite the bad taste, I laughed my ass off. Still chuckle at it.

To think such stupid “Communication Act” laws like this could put people saying things like this into legal trouble is more distasteful than any joke anyone could ever tell.

Anonymous Coward says:


>Steve Kuncewisz, a solicitor specialising in media law, said the tweet could constitute an offence under The Communications Act.

I’m no expert in the law there, but it seems the tweet could also fall under “Anti-social behavior”, an odd (to this American) and extremely broad method of enforcing social norms.

Retsibsi (profile) says:

The trouble is that the report given above of the incident just refers to a garbage truck driving over a hundred people. It doesn’t mention that the truck, though moving slowly, crushed 6 people to death.

From other reports the young man presumably realised afterwards just how offensive the tweet was as he deleted it very shortly after making it. Did he know people had died when he originally made it? I don’t know. No doubt the facts will come out in due course.

As for the “malicious” communication I suspect it’s a reference to the Malicious Communications Act of 1988 which covers
1)Any person who sends to another person—

(a)a [F1letter, electronic communication or article of any description] which conveys—
(i)a message which is indecent or grossly offensive;
(ii)a threat; or
(iii)information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender; or
(b)any [F2article or electronic communication] which is, in whole or part, of an indecent or grossly offensive nature,

is guilty of an offence if his purpose, or one of his purposes, in sending it is that it should, so far as falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above, cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“It doesn’t mention that the truck, though moving slowly, crushed 6 people to death.”

I don’t see how that fact changes the fact that being arrested for tweeting a joke should be a thing that is possible.

As to the law, this points out the serious problem with these kinds of laws — in my view, that tweet does not rise to the level of anything the law says. The closest fit would be “indecent or grossly offensive”, but I don’t see it as anything of the sort.

So the question becomes who decides what is “grossly offensive”? If that can only be determined by a judge, then there’s a serious problem because you have to be able to read someone’s mind to tell if something is illegal or not. If you can’t tell for yourself if you’re violating a law, the law is bad.

andyroo says:


Probably a family member of one of those that were either injured or died in the accident reported this joke and let the police know that it was extremely offensive.

There are times to weep for those killed in accidents and there are times to be serious, I hope any news channel would never ever joke about a serious accident where people die. But twitter is somewhere that people will joke, it is an open forum and for the police to not actually realise that is not only sad but shows that the police need serious training on when to console victims and their families and when to go out and seek revenge on a would be comedian for joking about a situation that is very serious for many.

In this case i hope the Judge throws the book at the police and demands that they attend comedy pubs and comedy centres as punishment.

Saying that there are many trolls out there that are really just evil people who will use the open internet to attack and hopefully in their minds make the victims and their families feel bad, sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the two as it is a fact that trolls try to use humour to make other feel bad.
In this case i would say the police went over the top and are guilty of some type of crime against comedians but if this joker has done this repeatedly and sought out the victims and their families to ensure he is affecting them emotionally in some way then i agree with him being charged , I doubt this is the case but am sure the police will try to make it look like it

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Funny

Screw it all. When the phoenix rises from the ashes of USA 1.0, we need to make sure the laws stay unambiguous and understandable to all 6th grade students who are going on to middle school. We can’t allow abuses of procedure to convert the Judicial system into essentially a slave/convict storage for money game. Our crime rate is plummeting but the number of new laws is increasing at a rate high enough to keep the prisons full. Just like in the fall of Rome, our spending on the plebs is outpacing the income.

All of our policies that brought greatness hard limited copywrites, patents that actually benefited everyone after the initial restriction period was over, government paid research was also shockingly used by nearly all to better our lives. Now all of these laws have been turned on their heads and the base meanings have been twisted to leave the exact opposite result as what was intended.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Laws should be understandable by a computer.

…we need to make sure the laws stay unambiguous and understandable to all 6th grade students who are going on to middle school.

It’s amazing how quickly the reading comprehension of a representative, lawyer or jurist will drop to below a fifth-grade level when his career depends on it.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Why so serious ? :p

The idea that there’s a “virtual” space that somehow isn’t part of the “real world” and therefore isn’t itself as real, impactful, or meaningful is, in my opinion, completely fallacious. Social spaces on the internet are just as real as social spaces in meatspace.

That said, what baffles me is that there are people who take online social spaces as being more important than offline ones and deserving of restrictions that are correspondingly greater.

Anonymous coward says:

Reminds me of the time I met a man, heard his accent and asked him where he was from. “America’s largest aircraft carrier,” he said. I thought for a moment, and said tentatively, “England?” “Bingo,” he said.

I repeated this at a bar once and this within earshot English dude’s face got red and he started to freak out. I told him it was a silly joke. But he was offended. Some people will never have a sense of humor.

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