You can't say what you like down the on-line pub.

>>  Thursday, October 11, 2012

It worries me, really worries me, that recently there have been 2 prosecutions recently about comments people have posted on Facebook:

Azhar Ahmed who said "all soldiers should die and go to hell" has received a community order.

Matthew Woods who made a number of derogatory posts about April Jones and Madeline McCann has been jailed for 12 weeks.

I don't condone their words but it worries me that when Paul Chambers was arrested for making a joke on Twitter about blowing up an airport the public were up in arms.  "Of course we can say something like that, it's like pub talk, it was a joke" etc etc

Paul Chambers' joke wasn't that funny to be honest, and no doubt Matthew Woods' joke, which he copied and pasted from another online site, was not at all funny.  What I do find odd is that I haven't seen headlines about that site being closed down.

If you spend time down the pub for long enough at some point you will be told a joke you find rather offensive.  I think people don't really think through the deep meaning of their words, it's just a quick sick quip.  Again, I'm not condoning it, it's just part of life.  I'll guarantee some Romans stood on street corners saying "what do you get if you cross a Christian with a Lion?" and they all chuckled together whilst death, pain and misery happened all around.  Not at all funny.

And if you stand in a bar for long enough you'll hear someone express an opinion you find wholly shocking. Maybe someone who believes mentally disabled people should be forcibly sterilised, or that the riots were "alright, 'cos it's just reclaiming taxes".

If you stand a while longer you might bump into a pacifist that declared that "all soldiers will go to hell". So how do we deal with this sort of thing, I guess it depends on the demographics. In a well heeled wine bar, perhaps a nervous twitch and a faux phone call to answer.  Perhaps at another bar there may be an argument or a great punch up but how often do people declare the comment so completely offensive as to call the police instead of wrapping a bar stool around their head?

Whilst we have freedom of speech here, there are a lot of exceptions and no doubt our 2 most recent examples broke those, but I would have preferred the people that were offended in those cases to use the block option. It's a solid response to deter behaviour we don't wish to promote. I don't want my taxes wasting on prosecuting some jackass who couldn't stop typing after too many pints or wanted to create a stir for Facebook cred.

Once full censorship of social media is enforced by the authorities it will simply lose it's original purpose. I wrote at the time of Paul Chambers' appeal that Social Media has become a dangerous place to play.  I can imagine a coffee bar in Russia at the height of oppression where a single whispered comment against the state was reported and the person was whisked off to Siberia. I don't want to live in a country where people have to fear prison because of the true meaning of their misplaced, idiotic after 10 pints offensive spoutings.  A delete, a public apology and an account suspension would shut most of the 'I've forgotten this isn't a real pub' type comments up far more efficiently.

I've no doubt you won't be making sick jokes about dreadfully sad happenings but it is all too easy for many things to be taken out of context and it's a sober reminder that, as I said before:

"It is probably time to take stock and realise that the world we thought we lived in has changed and you do have to be careful of what you are saying not just who you say it to."


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