Yesterday I read the news that Michael Black and John Morgan had won their case of discrimination against a bed and breakfast owner who had refused to let them stay, and like many, was pleased for them.
This was a couple that had taken the courage to stand up against homophobia and they had been vindicated. But within hours the story had changed.
Nick Griffin MEP tweeted the home address of the couple and encouraged his 17,000 followers to cause a “bit of drama” at their home. And no, he wasn’t talking about popping round for the Strictly final. For a couple that had already been through so much this was disgraceful. But more than that, it was threatening and I suspect, illegal.
I started a petition on Change.org to get Nick Griffin banned from twitter and when I woke up this morning 3,000 people has signed it. Now over 7,000 people have and it’s still growing.
Twitter needs to listen.
I support freedom of speech – I use it a lot to express my views on twitter and it’s this exact freedom that allowed me to start my petition. But I do not support inciting hate crime. And this is the issue here. Twitter is great forum for debate but should not be used to incite homophobic hate. The police are rightly investigating Nick Griffin’s tweets and I hope they will take swift action.
But twitter must act too.
The “Twitter rules” state that twitter reserves the right to immediately terminate your account without further notice in the event that, in its judgment, you violate its rules. It is not clear how “in its judgment” applies in the real world. We all occasionally get carried away, say something we don’t mean or something that can be taken out of context, so it’s good that twitter rules are not draconian.
But that is not the situation here. No organisation can turn a blind eye to homophobia or inciting hatred.
One of the tweets read: “So Messrs Black & Morgan, at [ADDRESS DELETED]. A British Justice team will come up to Huntington & give you a...bit of drama by way of reminding you that an English couple's home is their castle. Say No to heterophobia!”
Nick Griffin’s account @NickGriffinMEP was suspended for just a few hours last night and then reinstated with only one of the offending tweets deleted. So he’s back on this morning and making more offensive comments, this time about race.
If Michael and John’s case showed us anything it is that we must defend our human rights and be willing to speak out when they are challenged. It is a sad reality that homophobia still exists in this country. Stonewall says that more than half of gay, lesbian or bisexual students experience homophobic bullying and stats on homophobic hate crime make equally depressing reading. In 2008 one in eight of lesbians and gay men reported experiencing a hate crime or incident, that is just the cases that are reported. Homophobia in our society will not change unless we have the courage, like Michael and John did, to speak out and demand action.
My only worry in all of this is that Nick Griffin will get more publicity. But I hope that if Twitter do the right thing and ban him from the site – then at least that will be one arena that he can no longer use to bully and incite hatred. Twitter needs to use its judgement today to send a clear message that it is for free speech and against hate. In our ever-changing world of online communications, a line must be drawn in the sand.