Alex Massie

There’s been a Tweet but, worry not, DCI Taggart is on the case

There's been a Tweet but, worry not, DCI Taggart is on the case
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Behold, the Tweet that banned the internet. Has it really come to this? Evidently so. It is necessary to laugh at Greater Glasgow Police and you'd be advised to do so while it remains legal to do so too. Doubtless this latter consideration is simply the result of an administrative oversight but we must make the best of a bad situation that is not itself of our own making.

All this is true and yet not enough either. You might think this is merely an April pleasantry, a first of the month jape designed to entertain you as we await the first real sighting of spring in these northern parts. If you think that then all I can say is that you are a kinder soul than I. The Scottish Police, you see, have form in these matters. Their record is as long as a long man's arm. To wit:


Besides, in these matters, my advice is to convict first and ask questions later. As I have had occasion to remark before, this is the Age of Hurt Feelings in which every space must be safe. O tempora, o mores and so on.

Still, McPlod's warning asks us to hack our way through some great philosophical thicket. What is a statement - even, heaven forfend, a tweet - is simultaneously hurtful but true? What if seems unkind but also, you know, necessary? Suggesting that McPlod is a hoof******* bungle**** might fulfil each of these criteria. Would saying so really warrant a visit from the polis? If so, then so be it. The people who think like this really are hoof******* bungle***** of the kind who give lackwitted dullards and other window-lickers a bad name.

As I had cause to remark last year:

This was no rogue tweet either and, for that matter, no laughing matter. The Crown Office’s guidelines on ‘cases involving communications sent via social media’ makes this entirely clear. The monitoring of so-called offensive communications extends to “the resending or for example ‘liking’ or ‘retweeting’, of communications originally posted by others”. Doubtless the authorities would say they do not routinely invoke these powers. That they have not is, however, plainly a matter of discretion and there’s no reason to suppose such draconian prosecutions might not happen in the future.

Notionally, there is “a high threshold test to be met” but when you look at it this threshold is so low a Dachshund could clear it. Thus,“In some instances the context in which the comments are made will weigh in favour of prosecutors being so satisfied, for instance where comments are made following a particular incident, national tragedy or catastrophic event.” 

Hence the flurry of police activity in the aftermath of horrors such as the Clutha Vaults helicopter crash or the more recent bin-lorry tragedy in Glasgow. Morons post moronic comments on Twitter or Facebook or wherever and other morons report them to the police who in turn waste their time deciding whether a given tweet is grossly offensive or merely run-of-the-mill offensive.

Whatever next? The monitoring of conversations in public houses? Why not? Twitter and Facebook, after all, are merely digital, virtual, gathering places. As the wags on social media have put it today, Thur's been a Tweet and Detective Chief Inspector Taggart is on the case.

Beneath the necessary and hopefully hurtful mockery, however, lurks an important point. One that relates to something more than police stupidity and over-reach and instead asks an important question about the value placed on speech in contemporary Britain. The answer to that, as this and a score of other dismal examples demonstrate, cannot cheer any liberal-minded citizen. Such is the temper of the times, however, in which we live. Nothing good will come of any of this but you'd need to be a heroic optimist to think it will get any better any time soon.

What a country; what a time to be alive.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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