The Twitter trolls debate has spiralled out of control. The Daily Telegraph has declared that “time is up for Twitter trolls and bullies“. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon is coordinating a response with her state counterparts. Julia Gillard has arranged a meeting with the offended Robbie Farah.
Stephen Conroy, who has made a name for himself being furious at the internet, has chimed in too. The Communications Minister believes Twitter is acting as if it is “above the law”. In the US, the social media service is appealing a court order to turn over details of one of its users.
For Conroy this constitutes “treating their own country’s laws with contempt”. What an extraordinary statement for a Minister to make. Twitter has an absolute right to appeal, lawfully, a court ruling. And it seems justified in doing so. The US case involves the a charge against an Occupy Wall Street protester for disorderly conduct, and the Manhattan District Attorney would like detailed information about the suspect. Here’s the ACLU’s take:
Under the First and Fourth Amendments, we have the right to speak freely on the Internet, safe in the knowledge that the government cannot obtain information about our communications or our private information unless law enforcement first satisfies First Amendment scrutiny and obtains a warrant showing probable cause. The [Manhattan District Attorney] didn’t do that here. Instead, it has tried to avoid these constitutional hurdles by issuing a mere subpoena for Harris’s Twitter information.
Is this what our Communications Minister objects to? Limits on government power? Challenging government decisions?
To be fair he probably hasn’t thought about it. (Twitter lost that appeal and was ordered to hand over the information yesterday.) What matters to Conroy is how loud he can shout about people being mean to celebrities: the cause of the moment. Roxon and Conroy even put out a joint press release backing the Daily Telegraph’s campaign.
Yet there are already a wealth of state and federal laws which protect people against harassment, stalking, intimidation, incitement, etc etc etc. Conroy claims that Twitter has failed to hand over information about these dastardly trolls. Well, has law enforcement asked? We have a mutual legal assistance treaty with the United States. Sure, proper procedures are time consuming but too bad: that’s what it’s like living in a liberal democracy.
As with any moral panic, the details are, for those people intent on stoking the panic, mere details.