There’s been a lot of talk of the ‘chilling effect’ recently. The Leveson report, due out this week, is going to have a chilling effect, we’re told. Lord McAlpine’s threatened defamation suits on tweeters are having a chilling effect too – I was even quoted as saying so myself. So what is this chilling effect anyway? Even mention the words and it sends shivers down the spines of free speech advocates. You’re faced by icy glares – and can find yourself frozen out of discussions. Suggest that there might be some speech that would be better off ‘chilled’ and it doesn’t exactly make people warm to you.
None of us want twitter to turn tepid – if all we get is lukewarm discussions of celebrities and cold-hearted press releases from politicians then what’s the point? And yet sometimes, just sometimes, things can get too hot to handle on twitter. Arguments reach boiling point more often than they should, tempers flare and we all turn into hotheads and firebrands. Does it help? There are times when it does – when we need fire in our hearts and the heat of passion – and I for one would never want to lose that. There are other times, however, when it goes over the top, when the ‘freedom’ of twitter brings out the torches and pitchforks, and we seem to turn into a fiery mob. What is needed is a cool head. Now, for me, is one of those times. If we can stay cool, calm and collected, we can turn this possible chill into something that helps us – but we do need to stay cool.
If we can do that – if we can meet these challenges without overheating – there’s an opportunity here, not just a threat. Just as the Twitter Joke Trial eventually produced the right outcome – after a long and painful fight, for sure – we might be able to produce a good outcome here. If any of these twitter libel cases reach court we might get a better result than we realise. And if we don’t, as I suggested in my blog for the Justice Gap, we have a rare opportunity to change the law – the defamation bill is going through Parliament right now. Cool heads – not hot heads – could help drive though the changes needed to produce an atmosphere that protects what we love about twitter. What we need from twitter. So let’s cool down a little. Chill… but in the right way. Fix our icy glares on those who want to use this hot atmosphere to produce the kind of chill we don’t want, and say no. Keep cool – but don’t lose the passion in our hearts.