In the last few weeks this blogger has managed to get himself banned from the Christian Institute’s facebook page. To be fair there were better things I could have been doing with my time than trolling their page but the temptation was too much to resist. The offending post was when I responded to a comment about how wrong it was for Stonewall to refer to Christians as bigots by pointing out that gay men are routinely called much worse (queer, pouf and faggot were the words I suggested which – to be fair – the Christian Institute might not want used on their page in any context).
The Christian Institute – clearly blind to the teachings of Archbishop Tutu (not only one of the worlds most prominent Anglican clerics but a Nobel laureate and a man who stood up to a genuine evil) but who had to do some quick footwork to distance themselves from Nick Griffin. Ironically enough the whole point of Christianity is that the people of Israel were expecting a Messiah to lead them to a Godly victory but instead they got a carpenter’s son who told them to care for the sick and the poor. But I digress and there is much to discuss; however I will return to this later.
On another forum used by this blogger the site owners have recently had a clear out of users who were disrupting the forum by causing constant conflict. The message was clear; our site, our rules – you don’t play by them, you get deleted. Simple as. Again we will return to this later.
Which takes us on to the point of this blog. This year has seen an interesting scandal in public life, almost a scandal that dare not speak its name; the reason being that it’s not only hard to feel much sympathy for the `victims` but also quite dangerous to do so.
Firstly (and the most high profile example) there was Liam Stacey, the student who posted a grossly insensitive tweet about the collapse of the football Fabrice Muamba and followed it up with a series of racist insults. It later turned out that the tweets were sent from his phone while he was in a bar inebriated. His punishment was swift and decisive; he was convicted of sending a malicious communication and jailed for fifty six days. He lost his university place as well as his membership of a local rugby club. This was the very public collapse of a lad’s life. The fact that he had many friends in court supporting him were testament to his previous good character and it must be said that had he chosen to break someones nose in the bar he would have received a more lenient sentence. Breaking a butterfly on a wheel?
Next up; a seventeen year old tweeter who caused offence by saying Tom Daley had let his late father down by not winning a medal in the Olympics – to be fair it was actually a threat to drown Daley in his own swimming pool that probably led the police to his door.
Last month eighteen year old Matthew Woods was jailed for twelve weeks for posting an offensive joke about murdered five year old April Jones on facebook. Of interest here is that Woods was initially arrested for his own safety as a fifty strong mob marched on his house. The Judge in the case passed the maximum sentence possibile due to the public interest in the case, many in the public gallery cheered and (according to differing reports) Woods either smirked or choked back tears. Interestingly another man later escaped jail for an identical offence (a `joke` about the same subject), probably because the public interest wasn’t as strong. Mob justice anyone?
This week an eighteen year old man (a white man – I specify this for a reason) spent a night in the cells for posting an image of a burning poppy on Remembrance Sunday. He is currently on police bail. Here it could be argued he was making a political point: albeit one that was ill timed and misguided.
You’ll notice a trend here; young males posting stupid things on social networking sites (with either little or no malice aforethought) and finding themselves in police custody and – in some cases – prison.
One name that hasn’t come up yet is Nick Griffin (him again). In the middle of all this Mr Griffin used his twitter page to publish the address of the gay couple who had successfully sued a Christian B&B owning couple for discrimination and asking his followers to take the protest to them. Now Griffin is no fool; he stopped short of calling for violence or any other illegal activity. If any protest got out of hand he could condemn it without contradicting himself. However the implications of his action are clear to anybody with a modicum of common sense – however unlike the foolish youths above he has escaped the arm of the law.
So where is the line between a malicious communication and a controversial opinion and at what point do we cross it? This blog has condemned Andrew Jones MP as a spineless pen pusher; a comment Mr Jones (a nice man) might be offended at (or maybe not – he would be obliged to form an opinion, something he has proved himself quite incapable of doing). I consider David Cameron the most incompetant Prime Minister of the modern era – is this a malicious communication? When the time comes for Margaret Thatcher to give account to God what comments will be written about this woman who brought hardship and misery to far too many and how many people will be jailed for it?
And finally, where are Facebook and Twitter at? These are websites, not empty buildings. Do they not have moderators? If an inappropriate comment is made, delete it and warn the user. For extreme or repeated violations; delete their account and block their IP. This is what other sites have done; it’s what the Christian Institute did to me – it’s not rocket science.
This blog has limited sympathy with any of the posters/ tweeters mentioned above. However with the police and courts so blatantly misusing the Malicious Communications Act they have ceased to be pillocks and become freedom of speech marytrs. Had Nick Griffin fallen foul of the law he would surely have milked this. This law needs changing badly – but to do so would oblige us to defend racists, bigots, the uninformed and the ignorant – and that is something most people would hesitate to do.