An Open Letter to Matthew Norman
Let me start by agreeing with you on one fundamental issue in your Independent opinion piece, "It's Tom Daley's tormentor who requires the law's protection.". Where you say, "The freedom to cause offence is not one in defence of which many would march on Parliament, but it is a human right all the same," I couldn't agree more. I'd be on that march, right up front, banging the drum as loudly as I could. As one who appreciates humour like Frankie Boyle's that cuts not just close to the bone but into it, I'll go further than you in that regard, in fact. Where you say, "If the price of one Danny Boyle is 100,000 Frankies, we'll just have to pay up," I don't even see 100,000 Frankie Boyle's as a price. He has his downside, but I see him and others like him as a net gain.
From the days of flyting to the days of trolling, the lashing tongues of the vitriolic have always been, and will always be, I'd argue, not just invaluable but necessary. Propriety needs to be subverted, constantly and radically; the most vicious humour is often a flensing of the fat that hides a hard ossature of power and prejudice in its cosy cushioning. Because the ugly humour is exposing an ugly truth, I'll even suffer the outright bigoted who bolster the ugly truth; the price I'm willing to pay for one Frankie Boyle is a 100,000 Bernard Mannings whose cruel wit isn't just crass and cruel but abjecting, indirectly harmful to me in fuelling homophobia. I'll bite that bullet for the team.
I'll refrain from fighting hate-speech legislation others feel is necessary, but personally, I'd rather the bigots were as free to send me homophobic hatemail as I am to attack religion in ways that would get me burned at the stake for blasphemy in days gone by. Way I see it, I can't have the freedom to offend by taking a chainsaw to sacred cows, if the faithful don't have the freedom to spew agitprop about the "homosexual agenda," compare my sexuality to paedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia, even speak out for the likes of Section 28. So it goes. I'll stand my ground against that venom but... well, disagree with what you say, defend to the death your right to say it -- you know the score.
I'll also commend your article for being one of the few to actually quote the death threat tweeted to Tom Daley: "I'm going to find you and I'm going to drown you in the pool..." After initially coming across a Queerty article that led on a Welsh footballer's (swiftly disavowed) homophobic "TeamHIV" tweet and only mentioned in passing that "a teenager in Weymouth was arrested after threatening to drown the 18-year-old swimmer," I was surprised, then confused, then concerned to find most other articles I hit on barely mentioning the death threat, focusing instead on the initial snipe from the tweeter about his dead dad; yours was the first I came across that didn't seem to be burying the lede so deep it was... bizarre. Worrying.
From most of the coverage, I mean, the spin I got conjured the story of a 17 year old gobshite tweeting a harmless albeit contemptible tweet exploiting the diver's dead father as a weak point, a story in which the heavy hand of the police came down on this poor kid just for being, for want of a better term, a fucking douchebag. When I pointed out on Twitter that reports were glossing over if not eliding the death threat, here's one response I got: "To the extent that I haven't heard about the death threat at all." You see why I was worried, yes? It took me a good while to find this report detailing a substantially different story complete with threats to Daley's defenders -- to shoot one, stick a knife down another's throat, and more.
I still can't find any reports even mentioning that if you scroll back through the timeline, you'll find rape threats and claims to have a gun license.
I'll repeat that, let it sink in: rape threats and claims to have a gun license. But in the majority of reports I've seen you'd be hard pushed to even pick up on the drowning threat, with the focus largely on the original "you let down your dad" tweet. Going by the coverage, you'd think this is a story about cruel barbs, not luridly explicit threats of violence. Even in your opinion piece which acknowledges what it's really about, that death threat is quoted only to be dismissed. "Little space," we're told, "need be wasted on acknowledging that this melded the cretinous with the vicious."
Which is why I'm addressing this to you, Matthew, because that's kinda worse. No, I might be inclined to say if I were Tom Daley, let's not be economical with the space here. Let's not be miserly with our column inches, our words, our due consideration for the import of a fucking death threat.
Let's spend some fucking thought on it.
So, Matthew, that death threat is, in your opinion, "wildly implausible"? Who truly believes, I read you as saying in that "little space" between the few lines you pinch out from your pursed mind, that this teenage douchebag would really enact any of his bluster? For all his insistence that he's ready, willing and capable, in our haughty position as objective onlookers, we can surely all agree that this wee gobshite is just a teenage wanker being rude as teenage wankers are wont to be. Right?
Except we don't get to make that call. As I said in my comments on your piece, we don't get to say "pfft!" with some random yob tweeting murderous ire at Tom Daley. You don't get to say "pfft!" with some mate of yours who couldn't possibly, as far as you're concerned, be stalking a woman he's obsessed with -- not a "nice guy" like so-and-so. I don't get to say "pfft!" with some bloke who keeps talking about going on a killing spree in a cinema, but is "clearly" just a nerdy fantasist. If that random bigot emailing me out of the blue, enraged at my "homosexual agenda," actually crosses the line into death threats -- as one crank did quite recently to a fellow writer, Lavie Tidhar -- you, your journalist colleagues, and your whole host of naysaying bandwagon-jumpers decrying the folly of a "draconian" response, don't get to wave your hands and say, "pffft! never gonna happen!" Or well, to be fair, you get to say it, but you don't get to be treated with a shred of respect for that sort of arsewipery.
If you think you do, with all due respect, you can go fuck yourself.
(See? Totally down with the whole "right to offend" platform, me. I'll do my best to remind you of that with occasional demonstrations as we go.)
In your armchair certainty, you seem to think "highly implausible" is the easy answer, and that's it, QED. For at least one respondent on that article, it's impossible to believe that "anyone involved in this affair ever believed that it was anything else." Wow. His risk-evaluation is not just right; nobody else could have possibly arrived at a different judgement. Somehow this psychic can even see into my thoughts to tell me I don't really believe my own words when I say my risk-evaluation would be different. That's the thing about armchair certainty: it's for fucking douchebags who can't see past their own bloated opinion of their opinion. I suspect this idiot is so incapable of doubting his own omniscience, he genuinely can't imagine me disagreeing with him. But the truth is this just ain't so. I do indeed disagree.
Wonder of wonders, contrary to that respondent's divinely graced vision inside my noodly noggin-stuff, it is logically, metaphysically and temporally possible for me to sustain a different evaluation as to the credibility of that threat. No, really, it is. And by golly gee, professor, goshdarnit if that don't mean that Daley could have a different opinion too!
I'd say it's perfectly plausible that an 18 year old kid dealing with celebrity fixation the way Daley is would be genuinely worried about the tweeter's mental state. Just as a woman might, you know, actually be worried about a creeper who just won't back the fuck off. Just as someone who's been to the edge of meltdown might see the horrible possibility of that nerdy fantasist going over that edge. Just as I might actually take pause if some bigot threatened to put a bullet in me at a public appearance just for being "THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!" (sic). Or for that matter, for writing a book they reviled, for failing to satisfy, for "betraying" them in whatever twisted logic the obsessive is swallowed up in.
Point is, in such circumstances, I'll thank you to leave my judgement call over my personal safety in my hands. I don't get to play Deerhunter with you in your sleep, click click BANG. You don't get to wave off my concern that a crank may be gunning for me. I'll repeat: If you think you do, with all due respect, you can go fuck yourself.
You can clear the tiniest nook in your noggin, take all of two seconds to cross-shelve that death threat under "cretinous" and "vicious," and move on. But who the fuck are you to assume that your blasé gesture at judgement pre-empts that of the person actually getting the fucking death threat?
That judgement call over how "highly implausible" a death threat is belongs in the first instance to the victim. They get to decide if maybe they ought to phone the police, just to be safe, and put it in their hands. They even get to err on the safe side, because it's a fucking death threat. The judgement then passes to the police who investigate said threat, with a duty to that victim to do so in all seriousness, a duty to us all to decide reasonably as to whether to caution or charge, grant bail or not, refer to psychologists, whatever. It belongs to the justice system to decide if prosecution isn't necessary or if a negligible punishment is sufficient, whatever. It's not for you to cry shenanigans over one case so badly reported it makes a Queerty article look good, to declare the whole fucking process a sham and raise the banner for new laws ensuring no poor gobshite suffers unduly for making a fucking death threat.
For Cock's sake.
What's that you say? Blah blah airport bomb threat blah blah burrrrp?
Yeah, whatever. I was right there in that case, joining the #IAmSpartacus twitstorm over the abhorrent miscarriage of justice that saw Paul Chambers' rhetorical venting grossly misrepresented as a bomb threat when it clearly wasn't. But that's a different case. That's a failure of the justice system to live up to its responsibility to make a reasonable decision on content, not credibility. Credibility isn't an issue with Chambers's tweet because, as you say, it's irony; the sense is reversed to render it a Canutian gesture, to find comedy in absurd grandiosity that advertises its own ineffectuality. The Daley death threat is not irony. It may be hyperbole, an exaggeration of abilities and intent, but the claim to have a gun license is an assertion that it is not. The Chambers case is a false comparison then: there's no real question that it inverts meaning to take that ironic tweet literally; with Daley's death threat the meaning is equally clear but straight, the only question being the extent to which it's empty bluster.
The better analogue here is Daniel Tosh's joke about how funny it would be if a female heckler was gang-raped, which can be read rhetorically as an invitation to the audience, as a veiled threat. Although that's still weak; the power-play message is a subtler "Of course, we're not gonna, but you see how the guys here are on my side, bitch, you see how we could?" The better analogue of the crude bluster would be if some random stranger in the audience had rounded on that heckler, shouted out, "Let's rape the cunt! Let's track her down after the show and rape the cunt!" That douchebag might just think he was being funny. That douchebag might just be willing to put his muscle where his mouth is.
You do get, don't you, why I'm saying it's not your judgement call as to whether that douchebag is a credible threat? How it becomes a tad different when we're talking individual targets, interpersonal aggression, threats of death and rape? Right?
Is it fair to bring gender in here, map murder to rape? I don't see why not. To many, it might seem similarly "highly implausible" that a rape threat sent over Twitter to a female Olympian who had the temerity to fail in her event would actually be enacted. It would be equally said female athlete's prerogative to nevertheless call the police in pronto. It would be equally the police's duty to act on that call, arrest and charge the culprit. It would be within their remit to allow bail -- as they did with the tweeter in this case -- after an informed assessment of the credibility of the threat. That's no mean responsibility given that they're freeing someone who could then carry out said threats if that assessment is dead wrong. But so it goes. Suspects get released, and sometimes regrettably so, with calamitous results, but this is better than the actual draconian response we ought to fear.
But maybe you'd see the rape threat as so "highly implausible" that its tweeter shouldn't be dealt with any more than Daley's. Shall we abolish this aspect of the justice system then? Shall we enact legislation so the creeps can make their "highly implausible" threats with impunity? Cock forbid the police step in to investigate the poor unfortunate who, say, tweets at Rebecca Adlington how he's going to slice her snatch open with a switchblade. After calling her a whore for losing a race, then cravenly apologising in the face of a massive backlash, claiming he's just such a fan he was gutted at the loss, saying he's only jealous of her talent, and he's so so sorry, then lashing out again when she ignores his fawning, lashing out time and again at her defenders, copying her in on his threats to shoot and stab and rape, his claim to have the weaponry to do so, until finally he spews out that snatch-slicing tweet. Yeah, let's bring in legislation to fix the problem of victims of such abuse being able to turn to the police.
I mean, how could any victim of such a threat not see just how "highly improbable" it is that the complete stranger at the other end might actually act on their graphic fantasies? Can the stupid prick/bitch not take a fucking joke? Who the fuck does that fucking stupid fucking whore/faggot think they are calling the police over a tweet?
Yes, I'm associating your complacency with the self-absorbed victim-blaming of the gobshite. Your arrogant dismissal is a step on the road to theirs. You're not giving a whole lot more of a fuck for the victim's sense of being menaced than they are. You're equally rejecting any such sense as silly. To which I say: fuck you. At the end of the day, Matthew, is your judgement that the threat was "highly implausible" really worth a shit? Is mine? Or is it kinda more important whether the victim is freaked the fuck out by the fucking death threats?
But OK, let's ask the hard practical question. You have zero doubt that the threat is empty bluster, so let's be douchebags about it. Let's second-guess the victim, take the "better safe than sorry" card away from them, and ask if they could really, legitimately, not see the threat as empty bluster. Like, come on!
Apply a bit of Theory of Mind here, for the love of Cock. Look at it this way: Daley's experiencing the backlash after being the best thing since sliced bread. He knows how deeply many complete strangers were invested in him without really seeing him as a person at all -- seeing him as this wonder boy on a pedestal, a celebrity sports idol everyone in the country owns a piece of -- and now he's suffering the flip-side where adoration turns to animosity. Matthew, baby, I can easily picture him thinking of Jodie Foster or Jill Dando, worrying if he's picked up one genuine crazy among his 900,000 followers. Sure, it's "highly implausible" the threats have any substance. But then the murder of Dando was hardly something we all had a pony on at the bookies, was it?
"One in a million" is the definition of wildly implausible, right? Well, allowing for even 100,000 not on Twitter, Daley has those odds covered. How famous was Jodie Foster when John Hinkley Jr. fixated on her? How lauded was Jill Dando when she was shot? Fuck, I can be an obscure cult writer and still get hatemail. Most writers are nothing when it comes to celebrity, but we still get loons fixating on us like this. A kid in Daley's position...he's a lightning rod for that one in a million nutjob right now. He has every reason to be on his guard for genuine stalkers.
If you don't believe this, tough. You don't get to impose your willful disregard of the realities of Daley's situation in a fatuous judgement that he couldn't possibly have legitimate cause for concern. Shall I say it again? If you think you do, with all due respect, you can go fuck yourself.
And narrowing in from this general context in which Daley is a prime target, looking at the actualities of this case, the specifics of the tweets sent to Daley and his supporters are graphic enough material that we're well into "lurid fantasist" territory. I had to go to the source to find the claim to have a gun license, and the threat to rape and murder someone's mother, but they're there, and the article in The Digital Report -- unlike most everywhere else -- does report the threats to shoot X in the back and to stab Y in the throat. Sure, that could be just a vivid imagination. But it's exactly what you'd expect to see from a genuine risk. I see some red flags being raised here, and not much reason to lower them other than a complacent disregard of the gobshite as too full of shit and too pathetic to be a killer. Thing is, I'd say full of shit and pathetic are two of the red flags.
I mean, let's see...
What we have here is a personally targeted death threat from someone who starts out with ice-cold abuse that demonstrates a classic combo of zero empathy and deep investment. The guy who uses your dead father as a weak point to attack you for failing to meet his expectations in a sporting event... that's fricking creepy. The guy who moves on to fawning apologies after the backlash -- he becomes doubly creepy as he refuses to accept you ignoring him, pushing for you to acknowledge his posturing of contrition, twisting unction through vitriol in a fucked-up anti-apology like "why don't you respond to me you prick stop getting me hate alright I've said I'm sorry now fuck off," Man, that's Stage Two in the textbook stalker's refusal to just back the fuck off.
When his bitter outburst at your continued disregard reveals the insincerity of that apology, the fact that you're now the focus of a vicious animus for not pandering to his manipulative mewling... that's when you've got every right to be genuinely worried. Well, whaddaya know, for all the uberfan/antifan's remonstrations, he blames you for the terrible hurtful "hate" he's getting. For hitting you below the belt. As I say: full of shit and pathetic. You could just say boo fucking hoo here, the infantile oaf just needs to grow up, but when he goes over the line into actual death threats, maybe you want to sit the fuck up. And frankly, all of that history makes it perfectly legitimate to call the police. And expect them to fucking do something. Cause if there's even 0.0001% chance your harasser is a bona fide nutjob, all it takes is for him to be that one John Hinckley Jr. in a million.
Short of mystic powers of mindreading, Matthew, how do you suppose we recognise the racist, homophobic, misogynist sociopath who's actually gone off the deep end in a fixation with some complete stranger and may well cause them or someone else actual bodily harm? Well, a good starting point is when they say they're going to cause someone actual bodily harm. Duh. An even better starting point is when they spout their bluster repeatedly or as part of a recogniseable pattern of behaviour. Surely see-sawing between unction and vitriol like Daley's tweeter did is the very model of the unstable over-investment that distinguishes the casual hater from the dangerous obsessive. That such over-investment sucks the stalker into fantasy, unmoors them from judgements of what's socially acceptable and even what's realistic is what makes the threat all the more credible the more graphic it is, the more it may indicate someone swallowed up in the echo chamber of their own egoistic daydreams.
I may not have mystic powers of mindreading, but I don't find it too hard to see the stalker psychology bubbling under the surface of an embittered uberfan/anti-fan. It's a recogniseable mindset of objectification and entitlement, desire and contempt, the empty bluster the fuel and the flames they're stoking, building a feedback loop of narcissistic rage. The only question is whether it's gone full-blown pathology.
So yeah, sure, many gobshites are merely posturing the full-on sociopath. When you're on the receiving end of it, then you'll have the wonderful joy of deciding just how "highly improbable" it is that they're not just posturing -- as they spew their insistence that they're not just posturing, their bilious demands to be taken seriously or else. If you serve in the justice system or are called to a jury, maybe one day you'll have the awesome honour of deciding just how serious a legal response is required in one case.
Until then, you don't get to turn back the clock to the days when the police might well just dismiss the "hysterical over-reaction" of a stalking victim who'd got death threats. Pfft! they might well say to some young lad, or a "silly girl" in her twenties or thirties -- or a "darkie" or a "poof" being harassed for other reasons. Don't be ridiculous, they might say in their infinite wisdom as middle-aged white men. Lads will be lads, and that young lout's all bark and no bite, and life is a sea of fucking platitudes, and it's "highly improbable" that you've got anything to worry about. And maybe even, as the victim walked out of the door with absolutely nothing having been done, they'd roll their eyes at each other, and one would make some blithely dismissive comment about how that "death threat" from Wee Franco Begbie was so blatantly baseless that, why, they doubted even the histrionic victim really believed it was credible. Just attention-seeking, eh? Insert comments about celebrities inviting such treatment, women dressing provocatively, people of colour not integrating and gays shoving it down people's throat here.
Fuck that shit. And why? Who do you think is the first to be seen as blowing things out of proportion, making mountains out of molehills? Who do you think is the first to get the shitty end of the stick when you let the racist homophobic misogynist fuckdogs off the leash? Who pays the price, not of a 100,000 Frankie Boyles but of one Franco Begbie in a million, just because you have the luxury of thinking you're God All-Omniscient-Fucking-Mighty when it comes to the credibility of a death threat levelled at someone else? I'll give you three answers, and you can be right each time if you just think race, gender and sexuality.
Fuck that shit.
You don't get to say Daly shouldn't/couldn't really feel harassed by threats that this tweeting gobshite is patently not going to follow through on. You don't get to say that some female analogue is just a silly girly to feel intimidated by emails of empty rape threats. When the racist, homophobic, misogynist fuck latches on to anyone and plays the role of total sociopath to them, you don't get to wave that off, override the caution of the victim and condemn the enforcement of anti-harassment law as, Cock forbid, a slippery slope to some thought-police dystopia. You don't get to rally the cretins to a dream of stalker utopia, to an actual dystopia of bullying fucktards who'll as happily threaten to burn a "faggot," lynch a "nigger" or rape a "whore" as they will to drown a "celeb." You don't get to spout your moronic call for legislation to protect those who cross the line into fucking concerted intimidation, you stupid fucking clueless fucking privileged fucking twat.
No, scratch that. You do get to say all of that... any of that. Because that's the glory of free speech when it doesn't cross the line into death threats, dufus. Indeed, we're not even on different pages over the issue of "gross offence" as regards where that part of the line is drawn. But the harassment meted out to Daley by his tweeter was not just a crass joke about his dead dad, (nor even bigoted as per the homophobic "TeamHIV" tweet which, I'll note, did not seem to merit police involvement -- and rightly so, in my opinion as a free speech hardliner -- despite arguably constituting hate-speech.) No, Daley's harassment wasn't just arrant offence but a series of increasingly disturbing tweets culminating in a threat to hunt him down and kill him -- and if that's not, in your opinion as a fucking imbecile, a legitimate place to call in the police, well I disrespectfully disagree. I think you have to be a mewling thought-puke of a brain damage victim to argue that, indeed. But hey, far be it from me to silence you.
Rather, why not just go the whole hog, fuckwit, and defend repeated rape threats to a female Olympian? You've got that right of free speech, and I support it. You could even, if you want, attack the victim with all the bone-breaking breathtaking "did he just go there" rancour of a Frankie Boyle -- or a Daniel Tosh, say. You've got that civil liberty, and bully for you. I wouldn't deny it to you or anyone. What I really mean by "you don't get to say" is just, of course, please don't.
Please shut the fuck up, fucktard, is what I'm saying. Rhetorically, you know. Not with menace. Not with intimidation. Not as an actual literal claim that you have (or should have) no right to articulate an obnoxious opinion. It's just that you're talking through your arse here, I mean, your dribbling fart of an article stinking up the joint, shit-smearing its grandiose claim in that "highly implausible" and all that follows, its asshat assumption of authority, as if your idiot idea of legislation tying the police's hands for the sake of a scrote-wart like Daley's gobshite wouldn't override every stalking victim's recourse to law.
You're full of shit, ya fricking glaikit numpty tool, is what I'm saying.
You, me, anyone else, we all have the freedom to call for legislation to allow a gobshite to make death threats with impunity. But really? Think it the fuck through. We're free to mouth off to our heart's content about the dread spectre of a world in which -- oh noes! -- the police follow up on reports of death threats, where by Cock they countenance the victim's absurd notion that "I will hunt you down and kill you" might just maybe possibly perchance be coming from someone far enough off their fucking trolley to do so. We're free to lament the folly of legislation that doesn't enshrine every and any random cuntmunch's sacred right to menace whatever victim they fixate on, for whatever cracked and twisted reason, in their cracked and twisted fantasies. We get to spout such unmitigated bully-facilitating bollocks all we want.
It just makes one a fucking idiot to do so.
Get the fuck real. In the age of cyber-bullying, you actually want to extend the leeway on menacing messages so that every shit-head who's zeroed in on someone vulnerable can threaten to murder, rape, or torture them as long as he has plausible deniability of his bluster as empty -- which is pretty much always? You want we should tell a harassment victim they need to lighten up, not take those threats so seriously, because no matter what detailed methods of murder the gobshite is conjuring, it's not for the police to be impinging on his right to "play" at being a sociopath; no, his unwilling victim will just have to suffer the threats to cut off their pet dog's head and fuck its throat. Lads will be lads, ma'am. The likelihood of that spurned uberfan/anti-fan causing real trouble for you or someone else is just so minimal that no matter how genuinely concerned you are, ma'am, it would be a veritable outrage to civil liberties if our assumption that his bluster was empty didn't trump your peace of mind and our duty to public safety.
The majority of bluster is empty, but so fuck? The majority of bullying works by exploiting the uncertainty of a victim who can't know that for sure -- and doing so in systems where the victim has no way to ascertain the reality. Is that the system you want here? Can we expect a consistent defence of the right to intimidate when the next tweeting fucktard threatens to rape your sister/daughter/son/brother/father/mother/dog? How about emails and phone calls from a friend of the family who's just the last person you'd expect to do that sort of thing? Are you going to pat your loved one on the head and tell them it's "highly implausible" that Uncle Joe could be sending those creepy-ass sexts, and even if it is him, that's just his twisted sense of humour a la Frankie Boyle? Are you going to defend the refusal of the police to act on a friend's complaint regarding an ex-colleague who won't take "back the fuck off" for an answer?
Would you be hailing it as a triumph of free speech if, in another timeline where the police didn't intervene, just a few months from now, Daley's gobshite came knocking at his door and gave him the Jill Dando treatment, the fixation of an uberfan/anti-fan having festered at Daley's "betrayal" in the Olympics, this "nobody's" failure to just suck up the deservedly cruel taunt, this cocky "prick's" outrageous offence in exposing the poor gobshite to his fans ire, his unconscionable refusal to engage with an abuser's fake apology? Seriously, that rotted mindset of resentment is loaded into the gobshite's tweets. Take off the blinkers, apply a bit of foresight, and it ought to be blindingly obvious that it's a perfectly legitimate judgement call with this sort of empty bluster to set whatever wheels in motion as will ascertain if there's any real cause for concern.
It should also be blindingly obvious, I'd say, the sheer fucktardery of spinning it so as to downplay the menace, create a Straw Man of draconian punishment for trivial slight, and thereby argue the fucking abolition of a hard-won right for victims of harassment not to have their concerns swept aside by clueless cuntfucks. You're going to make a death threat your exemplar of what not to waste police time on, for fuck's sake? Because you can't imagine a racist, homophobic, misogynist gobshite like this being a full-blown sociopath entirely ready, willing and able to act on his irrational, fixated animus?
Some of us don't have that fucking privilege, mate.
Hugs & kittens,