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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  1. icon
    Retsibsi (profile), 30 Dec 2014 @ 11:11am

    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.

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