Is it not Foolish to Strongly Police the Internet?

Clamping down on internet trolling can be counter-productive.

The last few years seem to have been notable for people getting into trouble for making daft threats on the internet.

Back in 2010 a man got in trouble with the police for threatening to blow up Robin Hood airport after being frustrated with delays. It was clearly a joke.

More recently, a number of people got themselves in trouble for making threats against feminist writers in the wake of the campaign to put a woman on a banknote. These threats included bombs and rape, if I remember rightly. Whatever your views on the matter, threatening individual advocates is obviously a bit much. However, these threats are so ill-judged it really should be difficult to take them seriously. Let's face it, someone planning to do something illegal isn't going to announce that fact on the internet first if they are even slightly rational.

Obviously, there are irrational people out there, but the people who've been caught up in these recent incidents of 'internet trolling' have probably tended to have enough internet presence to allow for a fairly good judgement of whether or not they're thinking rationally.

The danger of taking this approach to internet 'banter' is that everyone gets the message that this relatively crude and unsubtle humour will not be tolerated. Instead, if people want to express their frustration at badly-run airports or whatever, they're going to have to be a lot more subtle and devious about it. Personally I find it much easier to shrug off some random internet stranger being an unsubtle arsehole than it is to shrug off some devious barb buried in subtext.

I think journalists have to consider whether or not they really want to increase the number of subtle and devious people in this country. I take the view that we've already got far too many people like that.