@rileyy_69 (aka Reece of Weymouth) and the ugliness of the Twitter mob
He is apparently 17, but looks about 12. Reece seems to live in a guest house in Weymouth, Dorset, and happened to be a little disappointed with the performance of Tom Daley and his diving partner Peter Waterfield in the Men's Synchronised 10m Platform Final. Like many disappointed fans, he took to Twitter. But instead of tweeting commiserations, he sent this:
Cruel and unfeeling, certainly: Tom Daley’s father, mentor, friend and guide died earlier this year of a brain tumour. But this Tweet was not a crime. Reece wrote what he thought: it was the sort of macho comment schoolboys hurl at each other every day. At this point, His Grace would like to issue a warning:
DO NOT READ ON IF YOU ARE LIKELY TO BE OFFENDED BY FOUL LANGUAGE.
Instead of ignoring the insensitive Tweet (how many harassing and irritating trolls must he have?), Tom Daley decided to RT it, with the message: ‘After giving it my all...you get idiot's sending me this...’. He must have known that one or two of his 792,000 fans would leap to his defence.
And so they did.
But Reece, bear-like, stood to fight his course:
But then something began to give. Regret, guilt, sorrow began to well within his heart:
But it was too late. Daley fans were in no mood for forgiveness: like bloodhounds on the scent of a terrified fox, they pursued their victim, intent on tearing him to pieces. Sky got hold of the story:
And suddenly Reece was trending across the world:
He issued a desperate plea:
But no retraction, excuse, remorse or apology was acceptable. Cornered, wide-eyed, he panicked as his hate-club swelled and his followers soared from the low hundreds to 50,000, The scorn and abuse poured in. The baying mob cast their judgmental stones of hate, and Reece responded in kind:
And what began as a hormonal teenage rant became apparent threats of harm:
Of course, these threats were part of entire threads of unpleasantness being targeted at Reece. Things clearly escalated. Twitter hashtags appeared, like #ThingsBetterThanRiley69, in response to which the mob consensus appears to be ‘being the middle person in The Human Centipede’. They wished him ill, harm, and deeply unpleasant trauma. One of the earliest tweets was an expression of hope that he might burn to death.
Reece is a boy; boys need to save face. Bravado, boasting, exaggerating, threatening... Such tweets are interesting in the context of the recent ‘Twitter Joke Trial’, in which an irate passenger apparently threatened to blow up Robin Hood airport because the weather had caused flight cancellations and frustration. He was initially convicted of sending a ‘menacing’ communication. The Crown Prosecution Service took him to court under the 2003 Communications Act, and Doncaster magistrates told him to pay £600 costs, a £385 fine and a £15 victim surcharge. The conviction in May 2010 was later upheld by a Crown Court judge.
But last week the Lord Chief Justice said a joke could not by definition be menacing: ‘If the persons who receive and read it, or may reasonably be expected to receive it, or read it, would brush it aside as a silly joke, or a joke in bad taste... it would be a contradiction in terms to describe it as a message of a menacing character.’
It soon dawned on Reece that he was fast-becoming a national target of hate:
and his plea was for honest and fair reporting: he had, after all, attempted to apologise as soon as Tom Daley had personally responded.
Reece’s threats are unpleasant, but not remotely credible. He is a lost and lonely child, who seemingly never had this:
But the Twitterati meted out their summary justice like pharisaical mobs tend to. We can choose either to hate and kill, or to understand and educate. When you’re a teenager and the whole world appears to be against you, you tell it where to go. When you're insulted, you return the insult a hundredfold. When you are abused, you hate straight back. Millions of unknown and anonymous people put up with this sort of stuff (and worse) every day.
What Reece did and said is foolish, insensitive and immature. Quite possibly, it was even a transgression of Malicious Communications Act 1988. But this would never have escalated into a criminal investigation and arrest if Tom Daley had simply decided to turn the other cheek.