UK Politician Arrested For Being A Jerk On Twitter

from the enforced-niceness dept

Apparently using the same law that was used to convict Paul Chambers for making a joke on Twitter, a UK politician has also been arrested for making a stupid statement on the service. This time, it was because Birmingham City Councillor Gareth Compton suggested, via Twitter, that newspaper columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown “be stoned to death.” Once again, this was a stupid thing to say, and it makes Compton look like a jackass. But should being a total jerk online be illegal? At least in the UK, that seems to be the law now, which means that police may be quite busy arresting various jerks who say ill-advised things on Twitter and Facebook for quite some time. Forget the “war on drugs.” It looks like the UK has declared “war on online jerks.”

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Comments on “UK Politician Arrested For Being A Jerk On Twitter”

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Rob says:

It’s even less controversial in context. He was “replying” to a radio broadcast (which was obvious from the hashtag he used) in which Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was arguing that Britain has no moral right to lecture China on human rights, or Iran on the treatment of women (which includes stoning for the “crime” of adultery). Compton was sarcastically asking if someone could stone Y A-B instead – it was clearly meant as sarcasm. It could be phrased more sensitively as “if you’re not willing to speak up about stoning in Iran, how would you feel if someone wanted to stone you, then?”.

Weirdly, it ended up making his point for him. She clearly was offended by the notion that someone might want to stone her, and in Britain not only can women not be stoned to death, the mere mention of it can get you arrested.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah we're really forgiving like that as a nation....

I love the totally hypocritical political correctness of our society. I’d lay a small wager that if he had instead suggested that Nick Griffin be hanged (which may or may not be a good idea – I wouldn’t like to say in case I get arrested for it…..), he’d have been given a slap on the wrist and told not to be a naughty boy again.

Seriously? Britain’s jails are already overcrowded, so if we’re going to start locking up people for saying stupid things I think we’ll have a bit of an issue. It might be a boom time for the building trade though, except lots of them are likely to be among the first banged-up.

We seem to rapidly be building a society where no-one is responsible for themselves any more. “Oh I’ve been *so* hurt by what that nasty man said, he should be ashamed of himself (and ideally be forced to pay me a lot of money)”, instead of “Oh look another a**hole mouthing off… and?”. What happened to “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me?”

It’s got to be one of the stupidest laws I think Britain has ever enacted: “suspicion of sending an offensive or indecent message.”? Personally I found the sanctimonious “Oh I really really thought he was going to KILL me it was terrible! My whole family, including my aunts uncles and second cousins were horrified, my long dead ancestors turned in their graves!” response more offensive. Do you think I could get a conviction?

RikuoAmero (profile) says:

This is not a real threat

I am going to blow up every airport in the world. With nuclear missiles. Despite the fact I’m a poor man with absoloutely no means or way of obtaining said nukes.
All men and women should be stoned to death.

Now, British police, read that and try to get me convicted. First, I pointed out its not a real threat. Second, in context with the above article, I am responding sarcasticly. Third, I’m in a completely different jurisdiction than you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: US Was First ...

Yes… free speech – as long as you agree with my viewpoint and are “nice” to everyone. Totally unsuprising on both sides of the atlantic

I’ll allow that the actual line between “oh I’m actually a bit offended by that” and genuinely “hurtful” is a fuzzy one, but surely all the more reason why “other mechanisms” should be used to combat and/or resolve such things?

Using criminal proceedings for things like that and this strikes me as not so much “sledgehammer to crack a nut” as “150Lb Rottweiller to open the pack of sausages you were planning to have for dinner”

Keijo Knutas (profile) says:

I do not advocate for internet censorship, but..

Censorship is always bad, but I do take all kind of publications seriously. Even when it is done using social media.

I feel that regardless how you publish your opinion, you have a same responsibility to stand behind your words as if you had published an article in newspaper or said same words in TV news.

Sending comments like “he should be stoned to death” or sending naked photos of your ex-girlfriend falls out to the same category in my mind.

If you made those being adult, you should take responsibility of those.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I do not advocate for internet censorship, but..

I do take all kind of publications seriously. Even when it is done using social media.

And how about when it is “published” to a private group via an email or social media or indeed in a private chat as happened recently?

Sending comments like “he should be stoned to death” or sending naked photos of your ex-girlfriend falls out to the same category in my mind.

Do you have any idea how many times I’ve commented to collegues that the application of a baseball bat might improve certain people I was particularly frustrated with the stupidity of at the time? Are you also planning to petition to have the word “Hyberbole” removed from the dictionary?

If you made those being adult, you should take responsibility of those.

And how about the responsibility as an adult listener not to be so thin skinned that any comment can be construed as criminally offensive? OK the remark was offensive and poorly chosen, but then so was she – faux-offense to score points is something I detest personally and the hypocrisy inherent in her method of retaliation is a little hard to stomach too.

Does anyone (other than her clearly and I’d debate that) actually think he was seriously inciting violence in any way? There are many people regularly in the media that offend me by merely having to look at them, can I have them arrested for it? That might be nice.. but then I suspect I might get pulled for “posession of an offensive shirt”

Perhaps the solution is to have everyone accompanied everywhere by a lawyer with secretarial skills. You would have an opaque 1 way soundproof bubble and a private (and encrypted of course in case someone overhears and is offended) link between you and your personal lawyer which allows him or her (or it.. wouldn’t want to offend lawyers who are neither) to speak or type for you so that every word is rendered through a “correctness” filter for minimum offense to any person group or other. Sounds reasonable to me….

Richard Kulawiec says:

Re: I do not advocate for internet censorship, but..

But you ARE advocating Internet censorship.

I’ve watched a nonstop parade of (variously) offensive, illiterate, outrageous, hurtful, bombastic, etc. comments go by from back in (relatively) early days of Internet predecessors like Usenet, the ARPAnet, CSnet, etc. Heck, I’ve made some of them. Some of those comments have been from identifiable individuals, some have been quasi-anonymous, and some have been truly anonymous. I’ve agreed with some; I’ve disagreed with others. I’ve ignored some, disputed some, flamed some, etc.

That’s how free speech works. Anyone who can’t handle that does not belong on the Internet. They’re not strong enough, not smart enough, not enlightened enough.

Now…I’m not advocating that people be gratuitously assinine just because they can. But if they are: so what? One of the consequences of supporting free speech is that you have to support the speech of ignorant assholes just as adamantly as you support the speech of eloquent and inspiring orators. (Note that “supporting free speech” does not require that you listen, nor does it require that you leave their remarks unrefuted.)

What we are seeing, both in these idiotic prosecutions brought by grandstanding, corrupt politicians, and in the completely fabricated non-problem of “cyberbullying”, are small people with small minds reacting to the reality that it’s a big big world out there with lots of pleasant and lots of offensive people (some of whom are the same people, of course)…and they’re attempting to wall out the latter, because they can’t handle that reality.
(Of course all those people were ALWAYS out there, it’s just now it’s much easier to come into contact with them.)
These people want the benefits of the ‘net — but are not willing to pay the price.

And so they resort to censorship, because they are simply not capable of ignoring the post, or deleting the message, or moving on to the next web page, or (alternatively) following up with their own post/message/etc. explaining their point of view. They want The Government to handle this for them, and they just don’t grasp how fraught with peril going that direction really is.

(Oh…and what an excellent use of government resources THAT is, when veterans are homeless, bridges are crumbling, children are hungry, and rivers are sewers.)

out_of_the_blue says:

Such a law should certainly apply to a politician.

Who is in a position to *legislate* violence in general, even if not the particular act. Our politicians must *give up* the right to shoot their mouth off, and publicly threatening a person or a country should land them in jail and out of office. — I’m looking at you, Lindsey Graham, though you’re not the only war-monger.

But of course, *this* is merely one minor idiot run afoul of the increasing police state that he no doubt supports (they *all* do to some extent, else they wouldn’t be in power, even if they’re okay in some areas).

Anyhoo, my thought for fixing such problems in general is to make the penalties about ten times higher when a politician commits the “crime”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Such a law should certainly apply to a politician.

Our politicians must *give up* the right to shoot their mouth off

Politicians are people too – if only barely in some cases. You don’t see a danger in holding people to a higher standard than you yourself are willing or even capable of acheiving? That’s just asking to be lied to – which is exactly what happens now.

The more the society expects people in “public” view to act not like “everyone else” the more often the expectations are going to fail to be met.

Niall (profile) says:

Difference in situations

I would beg to differ on this one. For the airport guy, he made a stupid, generic joke to some friends. he foolishly chose a public broadcast medium (Twitter), and tellingly, he wasn’t prosecuted under the law for bomb threats, but under another public order offence – a case similar to the US situations of ‘hacking’ definitions being way overstretched, or the cyberbullying case. overall, it was a stupid thing to do, but relatively harmless and impersonal.

In this latter case, the ‘gentleman’ specifally suggested that someone kill a specific person, which does come under icitement to hate/violence laws that we have in the UK. What also compounded it was that he specifically chose ‘stoning’ as a means of execution, giving it a racially/religiously motivated element since he was talking about a Muslim woman.

If he’d made a comment wishing bad luck on her, he might have been ok. if he’d made a comment about stoning someone unspecific, he *might* have been ok. But suggesting that someone go and stone TO DEATH a specific person is /not/ ok (under UK laws).

Whilst I am a firm believer in freedom of speech, we do have limits on it in Europe, without the same constituitional protections that the US supposedly enjoys. And calling for actual harm to people is one of those things that especially a politician, who is in the public eye with supposeldy a responsibility to be aware of these issues, should not be able to ‘get away’ with easily.

So no, I don’t think he was /just/ being a jerk, compared to the airport guy.

RikuoAmero (profile) says:

Re: Difference in situations

“specifically chose ‘stoning’ as a means of execution, giving it a racially/religiously motivated element”
So, is stoning a strictly Islamic act now? There have been dozens of civilizations throughout history that advocated stoning.
Did he actually suggest that someone stone the woman? Or was he being sarcastic, responding to the discussion. Someone should stone David Cameron and Barack Obama. There, am I now guilty of the same offense?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Difference in situations

There have been dozens of civilizations throughout history that advocated stoning.

Indeed…. including for example christianity.

On the other hand it’s probably a bit of a cop-out to suggest he chose that method accidentally. That doesn’t make it “racially motivated” though – as far as I can see it was deliberately chosen because that was the subject of discussion.

Griff (profile) says:

Think this is bad ?

Did you hear about the UK councillor who tweeted about Scientology ?

I think the best argument for sanctions of any sort in these “loose text” cases is that the tweeter’s actions show very poor judgement / stupidity and that is generally not something I want in an elected official.

For example, politician’s extra marital affair is revealed.
Should he step down ?
Is he hypocritical (maybe campaigned on family values ?)
Is he untrustworthy ? (who said any of them were trustworthy
Wrong questions IMHO. The right questions are
– Is he really concentrating on his job since this story broke ? I’d expect the job requires his full attention and who can give that with the media on their front lawn ?
– Did he really think he could keep this a secret ? Is he a moron ? What kind of idiot have we elected ?

So in an indeal world (for me) free speech would be preserved, but the voters would kick him out for having poor judgement. Or maybe he’d be deselected for bringing the House into disrepute.

You know, less than a year ago the daily Telegraph was listing chapter and verse of the MP expenses scandal.
Things that could get you and me arrested (certainly fired) for fraud got all but 4 (maybe 2) pols a “smack on the wrist”.

So to turn round and jail an MP now for a loose mouth would seem rather disproportionate.

Strangely, though, voters don’t seem to punish stupid remarks when they agree with them.
Try getting more than 50% of US to admit that the “Mission Accomplished” banner was stupid, for example.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In my book, if you’re not a celebrity then who cares what you are tweeting about.

So I guess in your book, if you’re not a celebrity, then there’s no reason to have a Facebook page, email address (after all who cares what you have to say, right?), or post comments on blogs. What celebrity are you AC? Since by your logic, you must be a celebrity, or why else would anyone care what you have to say?

Anonymous comments, Man what a stupid thing.

Rolo Tamasi says:

All words can only be accurately understood in context

Anyone who fails to consider the context risks making a serious mistake.

Compton was making a contemporaneous response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown arguing that Britain should not criticise (inter-alia) Iran for stoning women.

His ironic remark has now lead her to condemn stoning but anyone who thinks he was promoting stoning has got it completely the wrong way round.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown?s attempt to misrepresent matters by asserting that it was Crompton who introduced the subject of stoning and that he was racially motivated to do so undermines her credibility substantially. She is the one introducing racism.

Unfortunately the world is full of people interpreting things out of context and then reporting their flawed conclusion to others to whom the full context is not available.

NullOp says:


We follow the same rule but not in the same way. Our politicians frequently say stupid things and end up paying for it, but not by law. They most often are roasted by the press which causes serious problems for them. In actuality, its often the *way* something is taken that causes the problem. And in America, if you can claim you or your race has been offended its a “win” for you! Its total BS but thats the way it works. The UK just has a law, thats all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Which brilliant parliamentarian...

…do we thank for this law?
I’m just wondering who wrote and introduced this law in Britain. I’m not British so I don’t know the history of this. Is this a recent law, or is it an new application of an older law? Perhaps the brilliant one who wrote it needs to have it called to his or her attention that there are ridiculous unintended consequences of the law. Maybe their constituents need to be aware who wrote it.
If its an interpretation of an old law, then the same thing needs to be said about the jurists who brought this about.

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