Friday, February 22, 2013

Handbags at dawn: is the Twitter feud a ridiculous phenomenon?

Twitter has been very much under the spotlight over the last year or so due to an increasing number of ‘handbags at dawn’ feuds breaking out among high-profile celebrities. These spats, played out in instalments of 140 characters, have become something of a phenomenon recently, and they're not exclusive to the rich and famous. It's raised the question of when online abuse should be taken seriously and whether fines – or even jail terms – should be considered for those who participate in these wars of words.

One of the most high-profile Twitter spats of 2012 was between singer Chris Brown and comedienne Jenny Johnson. Brown ended up deleting his Twitter account after Johnson linked to news articles detailing his attack on Rihanna back in 2009, which resulted in Johnson receiving a torrent of death threats from Brown’s fans.

Another notable row occurred between rappers Azealia Banks and Angel Haze, eventually drawing in celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton too. Everything kicked off at the beginning of 2013 and it got nasty fairly quickly, with both artists posting derogatory songs aimed at the other. When Hilton stepped in to defend Haze, Banks fired back with homophobic slurs and suggestions that he should kill himself.

No one has yet been charged with any wrongdoing in these cases – perhaps, as the participants have mostly apologised, it did not seem necessary to press charges – but there are plenty of other cases where the authorities have become involved.

Take the abuse that Tom Daley faced after a below-par dive during the London 2012 Olympics, for example. His 17-year-old ‘troll’ made a cruel reference to Daley’s dad, who died of brain cancer in 2011, and was arrested, receiving a formal harassment warning for his trouble. The law was far harsher on Liam Stacey, who posted racist tweets about footballer Fabrice Muamba after the sports star suffered a heart attack and collapsed on the pitch early in 2012. Stacey was sentenced to 56 days in jail, some way short of the 84 days' maximum sentence for the offence.

Although many may be unaware of them, there are laws surrounding offensive tweets. The 2003 Communications Act states that it is an offence to send messages that are ‘grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character’. This is the legislation under which Liam Stacey was charged, but what exactly constitutes a ‘grossly offensive’ message remains unclear.

Towards the end of last year, Keir Starmer QC published new interim guidelines on the subject in an attempt to help make prosecutions more straightforward. Starmer draws a clear distinction between messages that carry a threat of violence or harassment and those that are simply ‘unpopular’ or ‘very offensive’ – which will continue to fall under the 2003 Communications Act.

  A number of public figures have left Twitter over the past year following threats being made against their families by ‘trolls’ or in the wake of arguments with their peers. It’s clear that a line needs to be drawn between ‘banter’ and offensive behaviour. Although Keir Starmer’s new guidelines are a step in the right direction, the law still has a long way to go before effective prosecutions can begin.

This is a sponsored post , however it raises some really interesting issues regarding Twitter and happenings in real life! 


  1. Sorry for not commenting for so long Flo! I think Twitter feuds are silly. I sometimes think that celebrities share too much of their personal lives on Twitter. I think they should keep some things back and not rise to silly fights. Really interesting post!

  2. Interesting post! I just came across your blog and I'm your newest follower :) Would you mind checking out our blog and (if you like) following back via GFC and Bloglovin'? Looking forward to your next post! XX


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