In The UK They Jail People For Being Obnoxious Jerks On Twitter?
from the interesting-strategy dept
I recognize that the US tends to value “freedom of speech” more than most European countries, and I also recognize that racist hate speech is pretty despicable, but I have to admit that the reports out of the UK of a guy being put in jail for 56 days for a bunch of obnoxious tweets are still really troubling. The guy making the tweets, Liam Stacey, was commenting on the on-field collapse (due to a heart attack) of footballer Fabrice Muamba. At first Stacey seemed to be celebrating the idea that Muamba might be dead, and then made some racist comments to those who spoke back to him. No doubt, Stacey appears to be an obnoxious, ignorant lout. But there are lots of obnoxious ignorant louts out there, and we don’t just put them in jail. I believe, pretty strongly, that the best response to ignorant speech is more speech — not putting the original speaker in jail. Stacey displayed to the world his ridiculous views (he claims he was drunk when he made the tweets, but that matters little). There was societal backlash already coming to him for those tweets, and people were speaking up about how obnoxious they found the comments to be. And that’s the proper way to deal with such speech. Putting people in jail for speech, even if it’s obnoxious, creates a massive chilling effect.
I don’t quite get the claims of the judge, either:
Sentencing Stacey at Swansea Magistrates’ Court, District Judge John Charles told him: “In my view, there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence.
“It was not the football world who was praying for [Muamba]…. everybody was praying for his life.”
Of course there are alternatives. There are tons. And you’d think a judge would recognize that. Separately, even if “everybody” (minus Stacey, clearly) was praying for his life, what does that have to do with anything legally speaking? Stacey may not be the kind of person worth defending, but his right to speak his mind (no matter how ridiculously ignorant and obnoxious he comes across) should be defended.