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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Four Years for FB Defendants...too much?

I have to say that I was initially shocked by the four year jail sentences handed out to the to the defendants who had set up a Facebook features encouraging riots. Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe Keeling each set up Facebook pages encouraging riots in their home towns. This was all that happened. Nobody turned up in either town that to take part in any disturbance. It would seem therefore that a four-year jail sentence in these circumstances was very disproportionate.

However on 18 October the Court of Appeal disagreed. The Lord Chief Justice felt that the sentences were justified. The riots in August 2011 were so serious and shocking that severe sentences were appropriate for those involved. As far as social media was concerned he referred to “the rapid movement and congregation of disorderly groups in new and unpoliced areas " In other words although nobody actually turned up to riot at the time, there was a potential for a serious disturbance just by the use of the Facebook pages. This in itself was sufficient to justify the sentence.

Having thought about further I can therefore understand the reasoning of the Court of Appeal. Potential rioters could well have responded to those pages and disturbances could have resulted from the actions of the two defendants. One can appreciate therefore why, in the circumstances, custodial sentences were appropriate. However I should say that the length of the sentence is still seems to be excessive. The reality remains that nothing actually happened, apart from the setting up of the pages and it does not appear that either defendant actually did anything further by way of planning any disturbance. Whilst one can appreciate the deterrent aspect of the severe sentence; four years still appears to be the much too high.

Whilst we are on this subject I do think that there has been too much emphasis on the negative impact of social networking as far as the riots are concerned. It should not be forgotten that in the aftermath of the riots a whole series of cleaning up exercises were launched via Facebook and Twitter. Social  Media clearly influential. The impact can be good or bad depending on the motivation of the users.

To that extent it is simply a reflection of the society in which we live

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