Scottish cops, stop policing our tweets

Blair Spowart

Topics Free Speech

It might be the legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment. It might be a certain Mel Gibson movie. Whatever the reason, Scotland, in the popular imagination, is a place where freedom thrives. Well, that image needs to be updated. Having helped to conceive and nurture the Enlightenment, Scotland now seems determined to kill it.

Last Friday, using the hashtag #thinkbeforeyoupost, the Greater Glasgow division of Police Scotland tweeted an image of the acronym, THINK:

Leaving no doubt that these were commands, not suggestions, the police accompanied this image with the following text: ‘Think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend. Use the internet safely.’

It seemed, initially, to be a bad April Fools’ joke. But the 12 o’clock deadline had long passed and, in any case, the Scottish police have form when it comes to pre-emptively threatening Scots for social-media speech-crime. These are no empty threats, either. Only last month, a man from Inverclyde was arrested for offensive social-media comments about Syrian refugees. In the words of one Dunoon inspector, this was calculated to send ‘a clear message’ that the Scottish bobby takes ‘offensive comments on social media’ very seriously indeed.

What’s striking about this latest example of Police Scotland authoritarianism is the astounding lack of self-awareness. Here we have a bunch of policemen threatening to ‘visit’ you over your tweets all in the name of kindness and keeping you and the internet ‘safe’. What could be more unnecessary, unkind and unsafe than having a police force so mind-bogglingly illiberal that it considers off-colour tweets worthy of a ‘visit’?

If this talk of safety and being kind to people sounds familiar, it’s because the same thinking underpins most modern-day censorship. Whether it’s politicians calling for Twitter to get rid of ‘trolls’, or authoritarian student leaders banishing from campus anyone they deem ‘unsafe’, the hypocrisy is the same. To rid ourselves of unkind people on Twitter, we must be unkind to them and lock them up; to turn campus into a Safe Space, we have to make it unsafe to think or speak in a certain way. To achieve this tolerant utopia in the future, runs the argument, we must be profoundly intolerant in the here and now.

For all the anti-establishment posturing of the pseudo-radicals on campus, it would come as no surprise to anyone if this batty THINK campaign had been subcontracted to Edinburgh University Students’ Association. Student politicos want to create a Safe Space on campus; the Scottish police want to do likewise on social media and the internet. Both form ostensibly opposed parts of the same illiberal whole. Its finger-wagging members are convinced that our everyday interactions with other adults must be watched over, sanitised, policed – that is, made safe. It’s an idea which, in the hands of Police Scotland and others, is increasingly finding expression through the use of force.

That should worry us all. Unless, of course, you have that ever-so-common trait of posting only kind, truthful and necessary things on the internet.

Blair Spowart is a student at the University of Edinburgh.

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Topics Free Speech