The Current

Don Dunphy's death has many asking how police interpret social media

It was a week ago, Newfoundland's premier Paul Davis was mentioned in a tweet that provincial police considered a threat. Since then, there are suggestions that was never the intent of the tweet. The man who wrote it is dead. Now questions about police actions continue and how police interpret messages on social media lingers.
The case of the Newfoundland man Don Dunphy, whose perceived twitter threat towards led to his death, raises questions over where the line is between threatening tweets and harmless ravings of hot heads. (CBC)

It was a death that shocked the province of Newfoundland and Labrador — and the entire country — just over a week ago ... especially because it all seems to go back to a single tweet.

The tweet was sent out on Good Friday, by a Newfoundland man named Don Dunphy... and it appeared to threaten the provincial premier and another politician. In fact the premier's security detail took the perceived threat so seriously that they visited Don Dunphy's home to investigate. But that encounter escalated to the point of guns being drawn, and Don Dunphy being shot dead. Now, many questions linger around just what's happened — including whether the tweet was actually meant asa threat... or related to something else. 

Despite the life and death stakes in this particular case, it's hardly the first time this kind of question has taken flight in the Twittersphere. Over the past few years Tweeters have been warned, charged, and even convicted for their tweets.

Paul Chambers is one such person. In 2010 he tweeted out what turned out to be a very ill advised joke. The Irishman spent the next 2 years in and out of court in England. Paul Chambers joined us from the town of Corby, in the British Midlands.

Social media, and Twitter especially, has definitely amped up the way we communicate... even just the sheer volume of chatter... but the downside of communication-by-microbursts could be the loss of tone, and meaning.

For authorities like law enforcement, the way we talk on Twitter creates some real conundrums, of where to draw the line between tweets which could be real threats... and tweets that are just the ravings of hot-heads... let alone mere jokesters.

David Fraser is known as one of Canada's leading internet, technology and privacy lawyers. He was in Halifax.

David B. Harris is also a lawyer, and the director of the International and Terrorist Intelligence Program for INSIGNIS Strategic Research in Ottawa. 

What do you think about this... do you think before you tweet? How careful are you? Let us know.

This segment was produced by CBC's Stephen Puddicombe.