Tuesday, 9 October 2012

prison for a facebook post, slippery slope to removing freedom of speech?

Today a man was jailed for twelve weeks after posting offensive jokes about missing April Jones and Madeleine McCann on Facebook.


The twenty year old was arrested on Saturday night for his own safety after a fifty-strong mob turned up at his house with baseball bats.  Interestingly though, none of the mob were arrested. 


For me this is not about the inappropriateness of posting offensive jokes on social media. The issue here lies with freedom of Speech, and the message that sending someone to jail for exercising their right to that freedom of Speech sends. 


Twitter, Facebook etc. are full of offensive material which is passed off as jokes.  Go into any comedy club in the country and you will find the most distasteful jokes imaginable, most of which are made at the expense of other people.  The elderly, men, women, the disabled, dead celebrities, and apparently missing children.  When it comes to humour, pretty much any topic is fair game.  Many of them are crass and distasteful, deeply offensive even, and would not be considered funny at all by the vast majority of people.  We have the right to be offended at the jokes that others make which are considered distasteful or offensive, and we have the right to voice that disapproval both to the individual concerned and even publically if those jokes are made on a public platform. 


But surely it is a slippery slope when we start prosecuting people for making jokes which are considered distasteful?  After all, where do we draw the line? what to one is offensive, may not be to someone else, and vice versa, and even if something is considered to be universally distasteful, does it make it worthy of prosecution purely based on the offense caused to others? 


There is no question that posting so-called jokes about missing children is distasteful and offensive in the extreme.  But then I feel the same about posting jokes about people with learning difficulties, severe disabilities etc.  There are several well-known comedians who have a reputation for being deliberately offensive.  Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Ricky Gervais all have reputations for making the most distasteful jokes imaginable, people actively boycott their shows/appearances on television/publically express their distaste on facebook, twitter and even in the media.  Yet we don’t hear calls for them to be arrested and jailed and rightly so.  Because while distasteful jokes are offensive to many, those making the jokes still have the right to do so, and once we start taking away people’s right to make distasteful jokes, where do we then draw a line? 


In this country we regularly speak out about people being jailed in other, less liberal countries for daring to express opinions which we have the freedom to express here.  By jailing people for posting offensive jokes on Facebook, it is just a slippery slope towards eroding our ability to exercise freedom of speech. 


Matthew Woods was an idiot.  If he was posting such tasteless jokes on my Facebook newsfeed or twitter timeline I would have no hesitation in unfollowing him.  But that doesn’t mean I feel he should be sent to jail, after all, we all have the ability to offend someone at some point or other.  Should we all be careful what we post in case it offends someone and lands us in jail? 


We have the right to freedom of speech in this country.  That includes the right to express our opinions over other people’s distasteful comments made in the name of humour.  We need to ensure we retain that freedom of speech, and applying prison terms to people who do so is going down a slippery slope to removing our right to that freedom of speech.

1 comment:

  1. Very scary, I agree :(

    - BeyondLimits