An anonymous Twitterer has sparked a minor sensation of the kind that only Twitter seems to be able to generate by pretending to be the notorious paedophile and erstwhile pop star, Gary Glitter. This individual set up an account with the pseudonym @OfficialGlitter, banking on the tendency amongst real celebrities to give their Twitter handles a distinguishing mark of authenticity by incorporating the soubriquet “official” or “the real”, and thus persuading a large group of people to accept that this was in fact the actual and despised Mr Glitter. The account quickly built up a substantial following, consisting it would seem of three major categories: admirers of Mr Glitter’s pop career excited by the account’s pretence that a come-back tour was being planned; self-righteous guardians of the nation’s morality appalled that a convicted paedophile should be permitted access to a public website; and a group of professional comedians who used the event to exercise their wit.
The account’s owner has subsequently written a blog (edit: the blog has now been taken down showing, it would seem, something of a lack of confidence) in which his admission of being a hoaxer is accompanied by a diatribe attacking those who made fun of the account, damning those who thought it was the real Mr Glitter but yet gave the account their enthusiastic approbation, and lauding those who sent “hate/abuse and started the #GetGlitterOffTwitter campaign”.
The account holder’s main aim, it seems, apart from sharing with the rest of us the gold-plated nature of his moral compass, was to launch a campaign that convicted paedophiles should not be permitted to open accounts on social networking websites. His view is that such activity is obnoxious in itself, and also hazardous to young people.
He reserves his strongest criticism for the pesky “human rights” that protect “the rights of registered sex offenders whilst also putting our children at risk”. And so we see a familiar argument which gains no power merely because it happens to have used a dramatic and innovative method of delivery. Human rights are to be dismissed because, inconveniently, they apply to all humans, even obnoxious ones. Although the blog doesn’t explicitly say this, the logical consequence is clear. Registered sex offenders don’t come within the remit of the doctrine of human rights because, well, they’re not really human, are they?
Well, distasteful though it might be, some humans are sex offenders. Human rights are not to be given or withheld on the basis of our personal moral preferences. Human rights are indivisible, and it’s a dangerous argument that would have it any other way.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I know I do. I am not defending the behaviour of Mr Glitter, or of paedophiles in general, or indeed of any other group of sex offenders. I am not proposing that it is acceptable for criminals of any description to use social networking sites to commit further crimes. If Mr Glitter truly created a social network persona, and used that opportunity to groom children for his sexual pleasure, that would be wrong. It also happens already to be illegal. It is not necessary to create yet another illiberal law to try and prevent citizens, even reprehensible ones, from using the internet in ways that any other person may use it.
And in particular, it is not acceptable, in my judgement, to encourage the transmission of hateful and abusive communication as this Twitterer has done, and then to praise the senders as examples of moral rectitude. He may find it “very satisfying to know that a majority of Britain still has their morals intact” on the evidence of their willingness to send “hate/abuse”. On the contrary I do not, nor do I have any sympathy with his criterion for judging who, and who does not, have their morals intact.