Rules of the Twitterverse

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People's behaviour on the Internet is fascinating. Some sit behind their computer screens, like blacked out windows, trolling fellow online citizens. Others post or comment with a duty of care to their readers. 

We all seem to have a sort of Dutch courage, some more than others, but there's definitely an air of road-rage confidence when posting/commenting online.

What are the rules of Internet etiquette, of using your online voice, and when are they broken?

The most recent Internet faux pas was committed by YouTube star PewDiePie, and a more serious violation was executed by Anjam Choudary, a controversial social and political activist who was recently jailed for advising people to join terror group ISIS.

So, PewDiePie has recently been in a bit of trouble with the Twitter Police, after claiming that he was going to go join ISIS.

The Vlogger made a really weak joke, landing him in social media purgatory. But he's free to express his feelings in such a way, right? Is it the opinion itself which is the problem, or the expression of that opinion that caused this hullabaloo?

According to Twitter

In its terms and conditions, Twitter states "We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we do not tolerate behaviour that crosses the line into abuse, including behaviour that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user's voice."

Where did PewDiePie go wrong? He wasn't exactly speaking truth to power, but his bad joke falls into the category of "We believe in freedom of expression".

It wasn't unlawful, was it? Twitter outlines unlawful use as using its service for 'any unlawful purpose or furtherance of illegal activities'.

What it is in definite violation of is Poe's Law.

Poe's Law

Poe's Law was created on a Christian forum website in the context of a debate about creationism, where a previous poster had remarked to another user:
"Good thing you included the winky. Otherwise people might think you are serious."

To which Poe's response was:
"without a winking or smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is uttrerly [sic] impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake for the genuine article."

In other words, without a clear indicator of the your intent, parodies of extreme views will be mistaken by some readers or viewers for sincere expressions of the parodied views.

Apparently the way to mask this social media blunder is by placing an emoji at the end, thus injecting sarcasm into the post. It's kind of like how Jay, from Jay and Silent Bob, began saying Snooch to the Nooch:

Warning: the following clip contains heavy use of strong language

Alternatively, just say that it's a joke, unless you're actually advocating terrorist activity - cue Anjam Choudary.

Anjam Choudary was a British lawyer turned preacher, and has been one of the most outspoken voices behind radical Islam in Britain for at least a decade. He has now been convicted of inciting support for the terrorist group ISIS and has just recently been sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

We now know that Choudary has breached anti-terrorism laws. But at the time, he claimed his views were his right to freedom of speech.

Posing your views as freedom of speech is a genuine reason not to punish someone for making a particular post.

However, it's the same virtue that provides a loophole for people such as Anjam Choudary who know how to carefully articulate their radical views under the guise of freedom of expression. Speech of this nature has now been proven to have enforced terrorist acts.

That isn't to say that Twitter isn't doing anything. On average, terrorist Twitter accounts are taken down within the day that they're put up. Just in one week of August this year, Twitter shut down over 250,000 suspected ISIS accounts.

The rules on the Internet are constantly adapting to the landscape. In 2013, David Cameron held an Internet safety summit to address the issue of child pornography online.

Now, there's no contesting that child pornography is wrong. So, surely it's the simple matter of getting rid of that information?

At the summit, attendees agreed upon action to block child abuse search results worldwide, help people search the Internet safely, continue to work to bring offenders to justice, and a series of further steps to help remove child abuse from the Internet.

Nope, it still exists despite the government's efforts. So, it is even more difficult to remove information on the Internet that could potentially infringe speech rights.

Analysing the Tweets and posts on other social media platforms is a matter of perspective. From the government's point of view, it's terrorism; from the laymen's, it's an issue of safety, misunderstanding, or just plain racism etc.; and from Twitter's, it's a matter of company image.

All those things play into whether a Tweet should be scrapped from the Twitterverse. The biggest factor though, is whether it's bad PR.

THAT is why PewDiePie was suspended. The only real reason why Anjam Choudary was online, was because of the media perpetuating it.

Side note: Recruitment for people going to Syria from the UK isn't just taking place on the internet.

Research has shown that the areas these terrorists are coming from, have been in clusters from Portsmouth, Cardiff, Brighton etc. - not just the Internet.

Sure, it's a factor to be considered, but those that join these terror groups often already know each other from school, work or other institutions - NOT JUST THE INTERNET.

If you want to look more into this, check out the work by Professor Peter Neumann, a Professor of Security Studies at the Faculty of War Studies at King's College London, as well as the Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

I mean, if people are going to look for this information anyway, why not use this Internet thingymajig to challenge and engage with people online who are susceptible to this kind of propaganda?

As for the matter of Internet trolls and crap jesters, that's unfortunately their right to freedom of speech.

It's a bit like owning a gun in the US: protected by the second amendment, but a privilege regularly abused.

So, if you're a troll, you know you're irritating people, so this doesn't apply.

If you're looking to radicalise people then you're in violation of anti-terrorism law and again this doesn't apply.

If you're trying to make a joke, be satirical or sarcastic, try harder, try on a different forum or end with the flourish of an emoji if you really have to.

Troll, terror, joke; all so different, all weirdly connected, like an ISISceles triangle ;) snooch, #joke, #crapjoke, don't kick my ass.

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