Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sawn Off Twitter Storm

I found the mixed reaction to the Paul Clarke controversy on Twitter yesterday quite interesting. For those unacquainted with the story, here's a link to local paper coverage of the story. To summarise:
Paul Clarke, an ex-soldier, discovers a discarded shotgun, hands it into a police station where he is arrested for possession of a unlicensed firearm and subsequently found guilty in a crown court and now faces sentencing this week. Apparently, the minimum sentence is 5 years imprisonment. 

The main point here is that the law, as drafted and passed by our beloved leaders, leaves no room for common sense to be used once the charge has been put before the court. Now, I am not a lawyer and don't profess to have much knowledge in this area but, it strikes me as just plain wrong that this could be allowed to happen.

Whatever you think of the individual on trial or the circumstances leading to his discovery of the gun, the (as far as I  can make out) undisputed fact is that he has been charged with the crime and found guilty in court purely because he handed the gun into police, rather than calling them up to collect it (therefore, blatantly "being in possession" of the gun on the way to the police station).

Even if you think his actions were stupid or naive, surely it doesn't warrant a 5 year sentence?

Anyway, you can draw your own conclusions on the story, the thing I found most interesting was the reaction it got on Twitter. I first noticed it via a tweet from @ConstantFury drawing my attention to his blog. I was shocked by the story and retweeted it immediately. I had a few initial concerns that the whole story might not be out yet, but on the evidence already available it seems worth some attention, even if only to provide some exposure to the light of publicity.

What I didn't expect was for there to be a political divide in the response the the story. Surely, injustice is injustice regardless of who's involved or the situation? After stellar twitters like Graham Linehan (@glinner) picked up the story and tweeted it, and Twitter storm started to brew. It grew and grew until a few political bloggers on the left started to put the breaks on.

At first I thought it was just sensible questioning of the situation. But, after a bit, they all seemed to be saying the same thing: he had the gun, it's against the law, there's a rumour he was a naughty boy in the past, so he's guilty and should just accept his punishment.

It fell to the, mostly libertarian, bloggers to keep the pressure up. But, inevitably, given that Twitter's heart does seem to be dominated by the left currently and with no stoking from (the mainly left leaning) twiteriety, the flurry of attention died out. It seemed this story of injustice just didn't push enough left wing buttons to be deemed important enough for sustained attention. There were no elements of racism or homophobia, the Daily Mail couldn't be blamed, no institutions that the Labour party likes to associate itself with were being criticised by Tories or white English speaking foreigners (the only kind of foreigner it's okay to disagree with without being a racist or xenophobe). No, this was just a normal man in Surrey (not an area of particular concern for the left, what with it being leafy an' all) who may be a victim of injustice at the hands of an authoritarian law. And what's more, he may or may not have been a bit silly in handling the weapon and therefore should just grin a bear it.

The left don't see the individual's liberty point of view at all. They see a rule being broken and shrug their shoulders, well that's the law, isn't it? Shouldn't have been so stupid, should he? Perhaps it's because their party is in power. But if it had been an anti-fox hunting or a G78 (or whatever number they're up to now) protester being roughly moved out of a road to clear a public highway, they'd be up in arms, tweeting like Tweety Bird cornered by Sylvester the Cat and they'd be ready to deploy an arsenal of weaponry on their foe.

I wouldn't mind so much but, as I've blogged before, the twitter community is very quick to turn on people or institutions that offend certain sensitivities. Mostly the anger is well focussed and correctly channels the wrath of decent people at those who are truly offensive. But in this instance the plight of a man going to jail for 5 years for (a the very most) being a bit silly (on the face of it at least) just doesn't motivate the left leaning members of the twitter community and therefore makes a mass response less likely to happen. I hope more attention is given in the run up to sentencing so that, either the full story gets out or the authorities receive a message that they can't treat people like this.

UPDATE: It was heartening to see the SaySorryBrown hash tag trending. Some may feel this shows it's not just left wing campaigns that can get traction. This is true to a degree, but it would be a mistake to assume all those who despise Gordon Brown are right leaning or Conservatives. It's fair to say Brown is so universally disliked, such a well timed hash tag was always going to be popular. But, again, because no celeb twitterer stoked it up, it burnt brightly for a short time before burning out. However, it did a lot better than the #thankyoubrown theme that some Labour supporters tried to counter with. I wonder when they'll get the message about their leader?

No comments:

Post a Comment