What do you make of Twitter? Personally I loathe it. I think it gives a voice to the kind of slime who really shouldn't have a voice. (I mean the ones who address vile abuse not just towards me but even at my kids; one scuzzball even urged that I should be killed because he saw me on TV and didn't like what I had to say about the environment). I also think it's heavily biased towards the left. So why I do I waste time engaging with it?
Because if you work in the media - or if you're simply interested in catching up with the latest news and gossip, pretty much in real time - Twitter is a necessary evil. In the right hands - as the great Breitbart demonstrated - it can even be better than that: an invaluable way of showing just how mean and low-down the left can be.
But to my mind it is best treated as a playground where good people mix it up with bad people, where wisdom and insight mingles with idiocy and crassness, where the sublime (modesty forbids me from naming @jamesdelingpole) clashes with the ridiculous (that'll be you @piersmorgan). It would be a big mistake to take it any more seriously than that.
Yet this is exactly what the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic are now doing.
In 2010 came the pathetic case of Paul Chambers, 27, who lost his job and racked up thousands in legal costs for a jocular Tweet he had sent when his local airport was closed because of snow. It was the kind of flip - possibly bad taste but patently not meant seriously and patently not threatening - remark people make all the time on Twitter. Yet the state decided that here was yet another opportunity to break a butterfly upon a wheel.
You might think that the US had a more nuanced, intelligent approach to Twitter. But it doesn't. In January this year an Irish holidaymaker Tweeted excitedly before a visit to the US about his plans to "destroy America." Guess what: he wasn't really intending to destroy America. (Quite hard for a single tourist to do; and anyway, if you were planning on such a thing would you really announce it on Twitter beforehand). He meant it in the accepted European colloquial sense of paint the town red, party on down, generally have a wild and crazy time. But such subtleties were quite beyond the Department of Homeland Security. The poor man and his traveling companion were barred from entering the US.
Latest development in the saga of the authorities' grotesque over-reaction to Twitter is the imprisonment - yes, the imprisonment - of an idiot who, while drunk, Tweeted some deeply unpleasant, racially offensive things about an ailing footballer.
One of the prices we pay for living in a free society is having to endure the rantings of fools. Their drivel may be an irritation but it is surely less of a menace than the alternative which is to have the state assuming the power to dictate what does and doesn't (in its shaky opinion) constitute acceptable freedom of speech.
I can't say I loved it the other day when that young student issued a request to his Twitter friends that I should be knifed. But I recognized that he was a silly boy who had said something foolish in the heat of the moment and that to do anything more than demand an apology would constitute an overreaction.Yes, quite possibly under our new Draconian laws I could have had the kid prosecuted, perhaps even imprisoned, for incitement to violence. But if you truly believe in freedom of speech, that includes belief in the unalienable right of idiots to say idiot things without having their lives ruined forever.