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Mind

Love Truth? Wait.

NeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticAugust 2, 2012 3:07 AM

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Britain may be hosting the Olympics, but that hasn't stopped us indulging in our own national sport of complaining. Many of the complaints in the past 24 hours or so have been about this chap:

Rileyy_69 attacked a celebrity on Twitter, who called him out on it, rileyy_69 attacked him more, thousands of fans of said celebrity attacked him, he attacked some of them back, then he apologized, but then attacked again, and eventually someone reported him to the police, and he was arrested on Tuesday morning for malicious communications or something.

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All very exciting, but so what?

Should we pity this guy, or did it he bring it on himself? Were the thousands who attacked him jumping on the bandwagon, or justifiably outraged? Should he have been arrested, and if not, why? Because the law in question ought to be repealed, or because it's a fine law but was wrongly applied in this case?

Good questions. We don't know enough yet to answer them. We don't know this person, his life story, his mental health situation, etc. Some details have now started to emerge, but generally the early, fragmentary reports in cases like this only add to the confusion.

It's too early to tell. I don't think anyone can dispute this. Unless you i) know Rileyy69 in real life and ii) are an expert in the relevant areas of law and iii) have read all his Tweets, not just the ones that made it into the newspapers, you are probably not in a position to judge.

It's too early to say, but that's never stopped anyone.

Newspapers and blogs are full of definitive, final judgements on these questions. Both those broadly in favor of the arrest of Rileyy_69, and those opposed, are equally premature. If there is a difference, it's that the latter group also include hypocrites, who swiftly took to Twitter to criticize the knee jerk mob mentality of the Twitterati.

One who really cared about Rileyy_69, the law, the media, or whatever else they claimed to, would above all want to establish the facts before commenting. The truth will out; we can but wait, or try to help it along. But we should not try to outrun it.

The truth is slow.

And that's fine. There's rarely, and certainly not in this case, a need to form your opinions within minutes and to nail your theses to the door of the cathedral within a day of the event. Just wait! You'll be in good company; few of the great minds of history measured time in hours.

"Ah", you might say, "but those who attacked Rileyy_69 on Twitter were, themselves, doing what you're criticizing!". They were, actually, but that's what Twitter is for. Tweets are about speed and in its place, that's fine. The human brain responds to stimuli within about 100 milliseconds; you give people the chance to type that response, and they will. To criticize that is to criticize human nature.

No, the problem is not those who use an avowedly instant communication service as intended. It's those who try to export that mode of thought into the ancient and higher medium of prose longer than 140 characters.

For everything there is a time, a time to Tweet and a time to think. Just don't mix them up.

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