In the UK, hundreds of people are jailed every year for things they’ve said online, particularly on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. In fact, over 1,200 mostly young people were convicted last year, up from 873 in 2009. They’re arrested, questioned, convicted, and jailed for posting electronic messages that are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”
Most of these people are being charged under the 2003 Electronic Communications Act, which was merely an updated version of a 1930’s bill enacted to protect telephone operators from harassment. But even if these teens were posting things that were offensive, that is not the same thing as someone being harassed or threatened by another. Those who voice their opinions on social networking sites are doing just that…voicing their opinions. Their statements aren’t meant to threaten any particular person. They’re meant to be seen by their “friend” audience. It would be different if someone was actually being harassed and threatened directly by someone else’s electronic messages. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. If you are truly offended by something someone said, unfriend that person, and you won’t have to look at his account statuses anymore.
Many of these people were reported to police, which prompted the investigations. So instead of ignoring “offensive” posts, people would call the police. All it takes is one call from a disgruntled viewer, and that’s all it takes to land you jail.
In one such case, someone posted a picture of a burning poppy on Remembrance Day (similar to our Veterans Day) and was jailed as a result. A New York Fox affiliate reports:
“On Sunday — Remembrance Day — a 19-year-old man was arrested in southern England after police received a complaint about a photo on Facebook showing the burning of a paper poppy. He was held for 24 hours before being released on bail and could face charges.”
Poppies are traditionally worn in England and other countries on Remembrance Day, commemorating soldiers who lost their lives in the field of duty. I can imagine how offensive this would be to many, but should it land someone in jail for posting a picture of one online? I can think of far more offensive online images that are still permissible in the UK. They only care about the posts that are critical of their government or military.
We are headed in the same direction here in the States. People have already been arrested and detained for things they’ve said on Facebook and Twitter and even on radio talk shows. However, nothing was done about all those murderous rants against Romney on Twitter. Politicians talk a great deal about preventing terrorism and protecting people from internet child pornography. But it’s clear all they really want to do is silence their opposition…and keep the child porn only for themselves.