It seems like we can’t keep social media out of the news these days.
Earlier this week internet troll Matthew Woods was imprisoned for 12 weeks for posting grossly offensive comments on Facebook about the April Jones tragedy. This has again raised the debate about when an offensive or threatening comment on a social media site should lead to criminal action and even imprisonment.
In the famous twitter joke case the courts eventually decided that if a comment was clearly meant to be a joke then a criminal conviction was not appropriate –
In the wake of this the Director of Public Prosecution announced an intention to issue guidelines about what might result in criminal action. Those guidelines are still awaited.
The Matthew Woods case has led to further debate about freedom of speech and whether it is appropriate to jail somebody for posting comments which are intended to be humorous, however offensive they might be. Well known commentator Joshua Rozenberg thinks that criminal proceedings are taking things too far –
‘People who cause needless hurt and offence to bereaved families and their supporters should be censured, shunned and shamed. Prosecution and possible imprisonment should be reserved for those who make credible threats to kill or maim others, putting their victims in genuine fear for their safety.’
This is an important time as our criminal justice system adapts to a new and developing world of social media. Do we allow total freedom to post comments however much offence and upset they cause? Or do we draw a line in the sand and say that freedom of speech can only go so far?
I am a passionate defender of freedom of speech. People should have the right to express views which I might find abhorrent. But on the other hand the point must also be reached where society says that something is so extreme in its offence that action must be taken.
Watch this space!