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Freedom Of Speech Debate Rages On Via Social Media

Is jail time for social media posts right?

There are some terrible things on social media, some things so offensive that now people are receiving jail time for their posts. Just two days after teacher Ann Maguire was stabbed to death by one of her pupils in Leeds, Jake Newsome, 21, who had attended a school on the other side of the city, posted this message on his Facebook page: “Personally im [sic] glad that teacher got stabbed up, feel sorry for the kid… he shoulda pissed on her too.”

freedom of speech on social media
Source: mashable.com

For obvious reasons, the online community was not impressed by his disgusting outburst, and the first of 37 comments on his post read: “Thats not very nice,” and others soon chipped in, with some addressing him by his nickname: “Greeny come on! You're better than that.” Another user wrote: “Greeny, not sure you should be saying this stuff on Facebook man - people get in trouble for this kind of stuff.”

A few days later, after his post had been shared across social media more than 2,000 times, West Yorkshire police arrested and charged Newsome (Greeny) under the 2003 Communications Act. Greeny should have taken the advice of his friends on Facebook. Just last week, Newsome was jailed for six weeks, after pleading guilty, with the judge reciting his post back to him and adding: “I can think of little that could be more upsetting or offensive.”

Mr Newsome was the second imbecile jailed for social media related offences in relation to Maguire’s death. Last month the equally as useless Robert Riley, a 42-year-old former bus driver was jailed for eight weeks after tweets about Maguire. His tweets stated that he would have killed her colleagues also, and upon inspection of his account, there were racist slurs found, as well as a host of other offensive material.

Offences of this nature now follow a familiar pattern, and like all sheep, once one moves, the rest will follow. There has been widespread outrage about the abuse by online trolls of public figures also, with the targets of such abuse being the swimmer Rebecca Adilington and Olympic diver Tom Daley. Despite the cases where the celebrities were concerned were labelled as harassment, the incidents in which Newsome and Riley were involved are different. Despite the repulsive content, they did not target or harass anyone in particular, and lawyers and human rights campaigners are expressing their concern at the jail time being given.

freedom of speech on social media
Source: mashable.com

Thomas Hughes who is executive director of free speech organisation Article 19, said the charity is “extremely concerned by the number of arrests and prosecutions for comments made online in the UK. Nobody should go to prison simply for causing offence. This is not only our view but a violation of international legal standards that protect speech that shocks, offends or disturbs.” Jo Glanville, director of the writers’ network English Pen, agreed with the above, and doesn't think that jail time is the right punishment: “He hasn't incited violence, there’s nothing around public order, so it’s purely for being tasteless. I think we’re seeing something new here. It’s a chill on freedom of speech.”

Despite the arguments for freedom of speech being a strong way to convince folks that jail time is the wrong action to take against people like this, there is a deeper argument where freedom of speech lies. Bringing up that this act strips a person from free speech is like turning up to a party at breakfast the next morning. Freedom of speech is the greatest illusion on earth, and has been for generations, as in reality, speech lacks the innocence that society labels it with. Whether it is a positive or negative remains to be seen, but when you look at previous agendas that have used freedom of speech to spread evil ideology e.g. Nazi Germany, maybe liberals (such as myself) should pay attention to the content of what is being said, and the consequences of it.

In this recent case, the consequences were dire for the family of the murdered teacher. They not only had to mourn the violent death of an innocent woman, but also suffer the social media content that followed. In an ideal world, freedom of speech would be a given in society, but we do not live in one of those. We live in one of consistent unrest between ideologies, religions and classes, and we are so far down that line that it will never end. Social media now plays a huge part in how these separate battles play out, and currently it is becoming very difficult for law enforcers to monitor such content. Ultimately we will continue to see offences such as the one that Mr Newsome has committed, and social media in this instance has become an integral part of the larger culture war that rages on.


Alex is an English Literature and Sociology undergraduate whose love for written word has led him to write about some obscure topics in his time. Currently a content writer at Social Media Frontiers, be sure to follow him @AlexSatSMF.

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Freedom Of Speech Debate Rages On Via Social Media Reviewed by Unknown on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 Rating: 5
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