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How serious are social media crimes?

By River Reporter Oct 25, 2012

What is worse than child abduction? Jokes, apparently. Joe Stanley-Smith comments on social media crimes.

Watch what you post – October has been a big month for ‘social media crime’.

Matthew Woods, 19, was given 12 weeks in prison for posting jokes he found on the internet about April Jones on Facebook. Granted, making jokes about a missing five-year-old is disgusting – but prison?

He had to be arrested for his own safety after a lynch mob of 50 local people appeared outside his house. No word yet on whether the people trying to beat a teenager to a pulp will face any penalty.

Community service for Facebook rant
A day later a man was given 240 hours of community service for a Facebook rant against the level of sympathy for the deaths of British soldiers on his timeline.

“People gassin’ bout the deaths of soldiers. What about the innocent families who have been brutally killed,” 20-year-old Azhar Ahmed had posted. “The women who have been raped. The children who have been sliced up!”

Best call the Met because I’m going to go out on a limb and say I agree with him.

My point is that there is a lot worse out there on the internet, and in the pub. I’m sure we’ve all met a dirty old man who, six pints in, starts making jokes about Madeleine McCann. In fact, if you’re one of Frankie Boyle’s one million Twitter followers, you could see him do it on October 1.

12 weeks for public outrage
There seems to be no yard stick for social media crimes. Woods got 12 weeks in prison because of, and I quote the judge Bill Hudson, “the seriousness of the offence and the public outrage that has been caused”.

If public outrage was a viable reason to put someone in prison then there’d be no traffic wardens left, Theresa May would be deporting herself and Justin Bieber would be picking up the soap in a young offenders’ institute.

According to the Communications Act 2003, you don’t even have to be saying anything offensive to the person you’re sending a message to; you just have to say something that could offend someone, somewhere. Good luck keeping that law.

So we come to the seriousness of the offence. The material was ‘grossly offensive’.

What happens when you get offended by something on the internet? Do you explode? Have an instant brain haemorrhage brought on by anger? No. You get over it. Usually sooner rather than later if it’s just some kid trolling around looking for a reaction.

‘Thought Police’
Neither of the above men were threatening, libelling, harassing, or in any way physically harming anyone. And if Facebook asks us every day: “what’s on your mind?”, then it seems that all these two convictions seem to show is that the ‘Thought Police’ really have arrived.

Azhar Ahmed made a valid political comment and was given, in my view, an Islamophobic criminal conviction to go with it.

His conviction is a joke, yet the Daily Mail seemed outraged he wasn’t given a prison sentence.

Matthew Woods is just one of many stupid, young men who make stupid jokes. Unfortunately for him, there were plenty of stupid people and an exceedingly stupid legal system to put him in prison for 12 weeks.

It will ruin his future employment prospects and possibly his life.

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