“If a few drunken tweets merit prison but harassment doesn’t, something’s going wrong here”

I’ve been thinking about Twitter racists and other unpleasantness. Techradar:

I’m no friend of racists, but the sentencing of Liam Stacyworries me. Stacy, as I’m sure you know, trolled Twitter users over Fabrice Muamba, posting vile racist crap when they responded, and as a result he’s been sentenced to two months in prison.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that what he did was acceptable – but two months in prison? For tweeting?

The point of the piece isn’t to justify what Stacy posted – it was vile – but to ask whether we’re throwing the book at the right people.  As I’ve said in the comments:

It’s an interesting area of law: how do you protect free speech (even if you loathe that speech with every fibre of your being) while cracking down on the harassers and scum like the people who troll the recently bereaved?

I don’t know what the answers are. Fines? Community service among the communities being abused? Electronic ASBOs and cyber-curfews banning them from social media?

7 thoughts on ““If a few drunken tweets merit prison but harassment doesn’t, something’s going wrong here”

  1. Squander Two says:

    > how do you protect free speech … while cracking down on the harassers and scum like the people who troll the recently bereaved?

    You don’t. It’s either or. Free speech doesn’t cover incitement or conspiracy, which is arguable but fair enough, but it has to cover obnoxiousness.

    The problem lies in the popular belief that bad must equal illegal. We need social taboo, not law. The way to crack down on bastards is to not prosecute people who punch them in the face.

  2. Gary says:

    That’s an excellent solution. And much better than what’s proposed in Arizona, with penalties from 6 months to 25 years:

    “It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use a ANY ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICE and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.”

    Annoy or offend? That’s my job description.

  3. Squander Two says:

    The comments on Techradar are just depressing. “I don’t want freedom because rude people might use it too!” Pathetic morons, and they’re the dominant culture these days.

    Up until twenty years ago, it appeared that freedom of speech and freedom of thought were a part of the progress of civilisation. Turns out they were just fairly brief windows. We managed, what, 150 years? It’s not long, in the scheme of things. Sad.

  4. mupwangle says:

    There was a campaign round Dewsbury a wee while ago petitioning for an asian bloke who said on facebook that he wished that british soldiers in afghanistan were killed. They tried to do him on racism charges then realised that not all soldiers are white, but despite him not actually having broken that law, the petition suggested that he should be convicted of it anyway.

  5. Gary says:

    Yeah, that’s worrying.

    The danger with a lot of these things is that you can confuse what somebody *is* with what they *do*. It’s quite possible to be horrifically racist without breaking any laws, and “convict them anyway” is no way to address the problem. I think sometimes hate crime legislation takes a relatively minor crime and makes it a major one. I haven’t been following the progress of our new anti-sectarian laws but I’m sure people will get silly sentences for low-level stuff as a result of those too.

    Part of the problem IMO is that we’ve got something of an offence industry going on. Twitter’s fuelling that: “Look! Here’s a thing you didn’t see, but if you had seen it you’d have been really offended! BURN THE WITCH!” Stuff that’s considerably less inflammatory than, say, a Daily Mail editorial, a Frankie Boyle gag or a Scotsman’s long description of the painful death he’d like Thatcher to experience then becomes a cause celebre, with demands for people to lose their jobs or be thrown in prison over what’s ultimately an opinion you don’t like.

    I’m not defending these arseholes at all, but as Jo says, free speech includes obnoxious speech.

  6. Gary says:

    As someone’s pointed out on another TR story, it ties in quite nicely with the government’s plans to intercept comms data. For now it’s the who, not the what, but inevitably we’ll be told that we need the content of communications to properly fight terrorism, pedalos and Eurasian spies. And at that point we’ll go fishing for opinions we don’t like, expressed privately, and we’ll nail people to the wall for it.

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