Monday, 27 May 2013


I've just had an interesting debate on Twitter over censorship and offensive remarks following an incident where one of my newer Followers made an offensive remark about Romany Gypsies.

The remark was about how 'filthy' Romany Gypsies were to be found on Park Lane and the surrounding areas. I ignored the offensive part of his remark and replied only to say that I didn't know that Park Lane had any gypsies. Unfortunately, one of my other Followers is a Romany, a fact of which I was unaware at the time.

He did not take offence at my reply to the comment but simply commented on his origins which led to the debate. The debate widened to include another Follower who took exception to my decision not to block the offending Tweeter.

I made the point that I support free speech and that I sometimes write what some may deem offensive Tweets. I also made the point that if I censor one person, I would feel obliged to censor everyone and that doesn't sit well with my personal conviction.

I have always allowed people, both on this blog and my Your Thurrock column, to say whatever they like about my work and at times they have offended me. I have, however, not blocked them or asked for comments to be removed as that would be at odds with my belief in free speech.

I can see people's point of view that offensive remarks may harm my readers but my blogs, Facebook and Twitter are public forums so shouldn't people expect some offensive views? A lot of my Tweets and personal blog entries are full of expletives and some have views and comments that Tories would find offensive so if everyone blocked me I wouldn't have any readers at all.

The particular Follower in question has only used one offensive statement in his interactions with me so I see no reason to block him as 1) he may be mentally unwell and may be mortified when he becomes well enough to read back his Tweets, recognising his offensive remarks for what they are, 2) a singular offense is not grounds for blocking someone, 3) although I don't agree with the offensive part of his statement so long as I am not endorsing his remark I am allowing free speech and 4) by retaining him as a Follower I can lead by example by not engaging with offensive remarks and making sure I never use them myself and the debate I had on the subject of censorship will educate others.

I've worked with the mentally unwell and know how easy it is to say something offensive when you're ill that you wouldn't say otherwise. I also try not to use racial or religious slurs. I will, however, heap offensive remarks on Tories but that's because they deserve everything they get but only if they have harmed me or my fellow disabled, sick or poor peers.

I also don't censor people because, with some of the things I've said over the years, I can't hold the moral high ground on this issue.

I judge people on their interactions with me personally, not on what they've said elsewhere. If the offending Follower makes another offensive remark, I will reconsider my decision but, until then, I must follow my conscience and not censor my Twitter feed, block Followers or otherwise engage in any activity that affects a person's freedom of speech even if that means losing the odd Follower or reader.

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