9 October 2012

Jailing Trolls

I say what I think.  Some people will like it, some won’t.  Some will agree with what I’m putting in this blog, some will strongly disagree.

Matthew Woods of Chorley was this week sentenced to 12 weeks in jail for writing vile and hateful comments about April Jones and Madeline McCann on Facebook.  I don’t think he should have been arrested, charged or sentenced.

Freedom of speech comes at a price.  That price is that anyone can say anything; good or bad.  As long as what you say is not intended a threat (which you intend to carry out), I do not believe that it is a crime and indeed, I believe it is a waste of police time to arrest/convict them.

So far on my count there have been three convictions with sentences thus far ranging from 12 to 18 weeks in prison.  My question is, even if you put the issue of freedom of speech aside, how can you police the internet?

The internet is a very large place, with a large amount of trolls.  Which trolls do you arrest and which do you ignore?  Why is a troll on a highly public case sent to jail whilst another, who says similarly abhorrent comments on a dead girl’s RIP page, carries on regardless, without recrimination?  If you can trace the IP address of Matthew Woods, others can be just as easily traced.

Would I prefer police time to be spent catching a criminal who assaulted someone, or catching a troll who has (at the basic level), hurt someone’s feelings.   Catch the criminals is my answer.  Whilst these trolls are repulsive beings and I certainly do not condone in any way what they do, they are not criminals.

The second point I have is in relation to the sentencing.  A 12 weeks sentence does not fit.  How does a sentence of 12 weeks for making comments on a social media site compare to other crimes?

Examples over the past few months would be Emma Bryan, who was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail following continued abuse and assault of a patient in a care home or Steve Howarth who committed a frenzied assault on another passenger of a train.  He too received a 12 week sentence.

The comparison just doesn’t add up.  If you are going to start arresting and convicting trolls, surely a more realistic sentence would be community service. 

Where there is the internet, there will be trolls.  For me, what needs to happen is better internal policing of Facebook and similar sites with stricter privacy controls and an easier ability to report and block.

Leave the police to catch the criminals.  They have enough to do as it is.

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