The United Kingdom is considering imposing harsher punishments for social media users who make offensive remarks. The assumption is that the offensive comments can cause psychological harm and are therefore prone to abuse.
Even though the government has threatened a speech crackdown in response, it was already showing that they are more than happy to have people arrested for statements they find offensive.
At 100, Captain Sir Tom Moore was a national inspiration for his courage during lockdowns and his willingness to walk laps through his garden in order to raise funds for National Health Service charities. He was knighted during the summer of 2020. He died from COVID-19 complications in February 2021. His surviving family said that he couldn’t get vaccinations because of the pneumonia medication.
Moore’s involvement in military affairs and activism wasn’t for everyone. Joseph Kelly, a Glasgow resident, tweeted “The only good British soldier is one who does the right thing, and burns auld fella. Buuuuurn!”
Kelly was charged for violating U.K. Communications Act in relation to a tweet that was “grossly offensive”. He was found guilty on Monday.
This type of conviction would not occur in America (so long as the courts uphold the First Amendment protections). However, the U.K. laws that protect free speech don’t have nearly as many provisions. In 2003 the Communications Act was passed making it illegal to send a message which is “grossly offensive” or contains an obscene, indecent or menacing nature over public electronic communication networks. The law is punishable by fines as well as a possible six month sentence.
Moore was deceased and so the message did not matter. The important thing was that Others people—particularly the people with the power to enforce the law—heard it and were offended. Kelly’s lawyer tried claim that, while the comment was unsavory, it did not rise to the level offense. Kelly was not part of any “protected classes” because of his race or ethnicity. Kelly also did not inspire violence, according to the lawyer. A 72-year old woman saw the tweet and testified that it hurt her “to see someone wanting British soldiers to die.”
It is law Get it nowYet, the U.K. Law Commission wants to increase police and prosecutor authority in order to penalize people who say things. According to the Law Commission, July’s recommendation for a new offense against speech was made. It would be based on “whether the message is likely to cause” [psychological]To those who read it, “harm”.
This week The TelegraphAccording to reports, the government has begun considering harsher speech restrictions. This would be accompanied by a possible two-year sentence in prison. This proposal was submitted by The TelegraphIt only demands that the message writer was conscious of possible harm, or intends for it to cause harm. This does not require that the message actually cause harm to anyone.
A bill that could punish managers of social media platforms and communications platform with criminal convictions or jail sentences is being considered by lawmakers. This would be in response to their refusal to provide personal data and information about those who violate these speech laws.
We don’t yet know what kind of cooperation government might demand about users, as the bill is still being worked out. Last year’s draft of the Online Safety Bill is a 133-page, oppressive list of demands on social media companies. This bill attempts to make companies remove any illegal content while not removing any that’s legal. It also requires that all complaint received be documented. They also have to protect users’ privacy—unless, of course, it’s the government demanding information from them about the users.
A host of exceptions are available for journalists which can lead to some very strange incentives. You can say anything the government considers offensive or dangerous if you get a job with a media outlet. This will likely give you more people to tweet it than you would if you just tweeted it.
It is known that U.K. politicians are trying to eliminate anonymity from the internet and stop the use end-to-end encryption, which prevents third parties reading communications and user data. This protection can protect people from being harassed in private and from information theft. Because of their anonymity, the government can’t prosecute anyone for speaking out against what they consider offensive or damaging. This safety bill draft contains a section which would make it an offense to anyone working on a covered communication platform or social media to answer a government request for information. It includes encrypted information that is inaccessible to the government. Companies that fail to comply with the information requests could be fined and even sentenced up to two years imprisonment for senior managers.
Kelly’s conviction for one single tweet should show that laws like these are not intended to punish egregious harassers and threatenrs. These laws are extremely dangerous and can cause far more harm to British citizens than angry remarks directed at celebrities and powerful officials.