Batman and the rise of the Trial by Twitter
As Tom Daley's twitter attacker is arrested Katerina Pascoulis argues that our trials are moving from the court room to the internet.
by Katerina Pascoulis
Tuesday 31st July 2012, 15:11 BST
Many major media outlets have reported today on the Twitter user arrested due to his aggressive and threatening tweets to Team GB Olympic athelete Tom Daley. The incident reminded me of certain aspects of the recent Batman blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises, and not simply because Christopher Nolan's most recent film has been so prevalent this summer
The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in the trilogy, has been impossible to avoid over the past month, even for non-fans. However, some of my friends criticised aspects of the film saying that it glosses over Batman’s relationship with the population of Gotham, in a way that the previous films in the trilogy did not. Personally, this didn’t bother me as I tend to watch films for superficial entertainment without over-analysing every scene.
I agree however that Bane’s relationship with Gotham’s populace features much more prominently in the film than Batman’s does. He is shown as a man of the people (albeit an aggressive, masked one). To them he gives the appearance of a revolutionary hero overthrowing a corrupt bureaucracy in order to give the people of Gotham a chance at real democracy. As a law student the most poignant examples of this were, for me, the ‘sentencing hearings’.
After those on trial protest against the procedure and claim their innocence it is announced by the judge that their guilt has already been established and that this is only a sentencing hearing. They are given the choice – death or exile?
Back in the real world today’s news stories about the arrest of twitter user @Rileyy_69 are reminiscent of this particular scene. @Rileyy_69 had already issued an apology after his comment about Daley’s diving performance disappointing his deceased father drew criticism from other users. He tweeted "I'm sorry mate i just wanted you to win cause its the olympics I'm just annoyed we didn't win I'm sorry tom accept my apology" just a few hours after he sent the original message.
What wasn’t being publicised this morning – possibly because they were quickly deleted, presumably in an vain effort to divert the ensuing backlash – were the death threats preceding this ‘apology’ to Daley and the other twitter users supporting him. It is likely these were the comments that led to the teenager’s arrest on suspicion of malicious communications; although, this is yet to be confirmed.*
In today’s society it is becoming increasingly clear that ‘hiding behind’ a twitter account doesn’t make you anonymous or untouchable. Another recent example of this is the 21 year old student who posted racially abusive tweets about the footballer Fabrice Muamba was also quickly traced by the police and jailed by a Magistrates’ court.
Regardless of the evident real world consequences of ones tweets, the true ‘sentencing hearing’ takes place on Twitter, the medium that facilitates the spread of such comments to begin with. In a way it gives the people the same chance at democracy as Bane did. The nuclear bomb about to explode and destroy Gotham is analogous to a consequential big brother state, always watching and listening; an extrapolation of new laws reducing the anonymity of the people hiding behind their computers.
Even after Rileyy_69 protested his innocence and pitifully apologised, the twitter community petitioned to get his account suspended, as well as trending #ThingsBetterThanRileyy_69 with one of the kinder examples suggesting placing fourth in an Olympic final. Rileyy_69 has achieved infamy overnight, and returning to the Batman analogy, I think most would agree choosing the offer of death would be a slightly disproportionate response. Instead he has been exiled into the real world, and the public eye, from what he naively believed to be his twitter fortress.
*Under the Malicious Communications Act 1998 and the Telecommunications Act 1984 it is an offence to send an indecent, offensive or threatening letter, electronic communication or other article to another person. This offence is punishable with up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine (see http://www.respectme.org.uk/Cyberbullying-and-the-law.html#harassment for more details).