Policing Free Speech Takes Up Half Of The Force’s Time
CHIEF Constable Alex Marshall, head of the College of Policing told BBC Radio 4’s Law in Action that policing social media is full-time job:
“As people have moved their shopping online and their communications online, they’ve also moved their insults, their abuse and their threats online, so I see that it won’t be long before pretty much every investigation that the police conduct will have an online element to it.. in a typical day where perhaps they deal with a dozen calls, they might expect that at least half of them, whether around antisocial behaviour or abuse or threats of assault may well relate to social media, Facebook, Twitter or other forms.”
“People throughout history have shouted abuse at each other and had disagreements and arguments and possibly said things that they regret later and the police have never investigated every disagreement between everyone. So we have to be careful here that there’s a line that needs to be drawn and if something is serious and it’s a crime and someone is genuinely threatened or in the case of domestic abuse – maybe they’re being coerced and treated deliberately in this way as a sort of punishment by a partner – that’s a serious issue that we need to take on.”
Fair point. But the police have been using twitter abuse as a PR tool. The police have not investigated abuse levelled at Josie Cunningham , a mum-of-two who got her new glam our-model sized boobs on the NHS and then set herself up in the tabloid media as an aunt Sally by saying she would abort her child to appear on Big Brother. Righteous of Twitter demand that she be tortured and murdered, her children orphaned. Emma West, a mentally unwell woman billed on social media as “Racist Tram Lady” was the subject of calls that she be raped, beaten and murdered.
Again, no arrests were made. Police only got involved to nick West for telling a black woman on a South London tram to “get back to their own country” and effing and blinding at her. Nasty stuff. But threatening to kill the apparent bigot, saying you’re going to stab her and make her children motherless, is fine.
Remember Liam Stacey. He was the fool who tweeted to his 300 followers that he hoped Fabrice Muamba, the black footballer whose heart stopepd beating on the pitch, had died. He then abused the colour of the desperately ill man’s skin in a racist tirade in 140 characters or fewer. Lest you suppose that an idiot attracting attention for his giving full throast to his idiocy on twitter should be best ignored, know that his subsequent frank and full apology was not enough. He was sentenced to 56 days prison. And the most insane part of this was what District Judge John Charles told him:
“It was racist abuse via a social networking site instigated as a result of a vile and abhorrent comment about a young footballer who was fighting for his life. At the moment not just the footballer’s family, not just the footballing world but the whole world were literally praying for his life, your comments aggravated this situation. I have no choice but to impose an immediate custodial sentence to reflect the public outrage at what you have done.”
If you’re not outraged, then it’s not a crime? Tweeting a nasty line or two on Twitter aggravated the situation? How? Were the footballer’s loved ones told about it and became still more upset at the news?
When do unpleasant comments posted online become crimes?
Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were jailed for four years jail for using Facebook to plan a riot. No-one responded to their online call. Like punk band The Clash and their call for a White Riot, they triggered no mayhem.
Stacey’s tweets were revolting. The Facebook duo are pillocks. Equally dense was Leicester City footballer Michael Ball. He was fined £6,000 by the FA for tweeting this about Antony Cotton, a gay actor on Coronation Street: “That f**king queer. Get back to your sewing machine in Corrie, you moaning bastard.”
Azhar Ahmed was arrested for saying that British soldiers should “die and go to hell”. Ahmed was fined £300 at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court and ordered to perform 240 hours of community service over a two-year period.
You can view thw legal guidelinws for online speech crime here.
And you can wonder why police and courts apply the law unevenly. Might it be because it’s not really about racism, sexism or any kind of abuse, it’s about ensuring that we respect the morals those in power have deemed the most worthy.