I have been around Twitter for a long time. I’m going to up to it – I am a geek. I have been on Twitter since before most people have heard of Twitter.

I am a huge fan of the medium. In the right hands, a 140 character limit encourages wit, eloquence and an intelligent condensing of thought that stands in stark contrast to long, rambling Facebook status updates. Twitter is a forum to meet and talk with people who are experts in their field – theology, web design, media and politics.

Of course, any open internet forum is going to turn a bit ugly and sharp from time to time. It’s the nature of the written word to be misunderstood and misjudged, for offence to be taken where none was intended. I have lost count of the number of the times I have found myself seriously frustrated with people on Twitter (and other areas of the internet – anyone remember forums?). And I know I have hurt and frustrated others in turn.

I say that to remind you that I am not living in some cloud-cuckoo land of puppies and candy floss. I know the internet can be sharp and often emotionally tough. Never, however, have I seen the level of abuse and misogynistic bullying that has been thrown this week on Twitter.

Sure, a certain level of pond life has always existed on the internet. Unsure about their ability to live in a world defined by mutual relationships between men and women, some men have always resorted to name calling and hilarious “get back into the kitchen” banter.

However, co-ordinated verbal abuse and name calling (much of it so bad I am not willing to repeat it on this blog), along with rape threats and bomb threats – this is a new phenomenon. Much of it is targeted at women – Caroline Criado Perez, Stella Creasy and today Vicky Beeching – whose only crime seems to be the fact that they are women in possession of an opinion online. I know – its shocking.

Edit: apparently not such a new phenomenon, as Vicky Beeching’s brave post makes clear. If you’re of the “sticks and stones may break my bones” opinion, I encourage you to read her post and see something of the ugly reality of twitter abuse.

Also if you happen to be against such behaviour – and other such outlet of unchecked male testosterone such as lads’ mags, page 3 or online pornography – it’s because your breasts are too small for anyone to pay you any attention and you must be jealous. After all, the only acceptable reference to the existence of women on or offline must be variations on “phhwwwaaar” or “more pie please, love”.

Freedom of Speech

Clearly such actions are immoral and unethical – and often times illegal. They are also, as has been pointed out, harmful to free speech – by creating an environment where women feel unable to exercise right to free speech for fear of wanton threats of physical harm, we are undermining the value. That’s why there are boundaries to free speech within hate speech laws.

Free speech becomes meaningless speech, threatening speech and useless speech – we cease to say anything worth hearing and become captive to the ruthless will of the ‘Almighty “I”’ – “I have the right to call whoever I like whatever I like and express the desire to do to them whatever I like, and you ain’t going to stop me. Also you must be well mingin‘ because you’re quite obviously jealous you’re not getting the attention Page 3 models get. Phwwwaaaar!”

Whatever.

Bullying and online abuse, name calling and rape threats online are to free speech what a river full of raw sewage is to the water cycle.

Freedom of speech isn’t the ability to spread abusive garbage or meaningless drivel. Within the assumptions of free speech, there is a commitment to moral seriousness and the resistance of tyranny (which includes the tyranny of unchecked male aggression or the unfettered expression of the will – no matter how morally degenerate and warped that will is).

Within the principle of free speech there is an account justice and truth as being values which exist in reality and which matter. For example, it’s not just my personal opinion that the existence of starving children in the world is wrong, but a moral evil which is true in reality. Free speech exists to talk about such serious subjects as good and evil, right and wrong, legal and illegal, aesthetically good and bad, intellectually valid or invalid. It’s the basis upon which healthy societies are built.

Freedom of speech points beyond itself to the well-being of the society it aims to edify and to the truth it seeks to state. The idea that the words we use point to greater concepts of morality, communal well-being and virtue.