UK Government Would Like To Put Internet Trolls In Jail For Two Years

from the and-you-just-got-yourself-some-trolling dept

The war on free speech continues. Andy Przybylski points us to the news that the UK's Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is apparently really upset about internet trolls, and thinks they should be jailed for up to two years. He's pushing to extend an existing law -- which we've ridiculed in the past -- which allows for jailing trolls up to six months. Grayling thinks the threat of even longer sentences would suddenly make people nice online.
"These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media," Grayling said.

"That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence."
The article also quotes a lawyer claiming -- apparently with total seriousness -- "There is a public interest in having people put away for a long time. It is putting someone in fear of their life and fear of physical harm."

No one denies that trolls can be abusive and harassing -- to the point of seriously upsetting some people's lives. But putting people in jail for being assholes? That crosses over a line. Grayling also has an interesting definition of cruelty:
"This is a law to combat cruelty – and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years."
Of course, some people would argue that jailing people for two years for being jerks is actually pretty damn cruel as well. Perhaps the response should be to put Grayling in jail for his own cruelty...

Filed Under: chris grayling, free speech, harassment, trolls, uk


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  1. identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 21 Oct 2014 @ 1:21pm

    Re: Re: Troll bad, law good, me hungry

    "Being a jerk and crossing the line are two different things."

    Let us suppose for a moment that this statement is true. Now...how are they different things? What are the objective, defensible criteria for discerning the difference? Who will apply those criteria? How will they be applied?

    Or is this a situation akin to the claim of a certain court that it "knows pornography when it sees it"?

    If one seeks to codify this (alleged) distinction in law, then one had better be prepared to define it in excruciating and unambiguous detail -- because otherwise it will be applied inconsistently, mostly when someone of power, wealth or influence wishes it to be. (And arguably those are the people least in need of such a defense.) And it will be applied against people who are powerless, poor and uninfluential precisely because it can be. (And arguably those are the people most in need.)

    I don't think such a description exists or can be constructed, not without tortuous logic that will never stand up to scrutiny. The difference is often in the eye of the beholder, who can hardly claim to be a dispassionate arbiter.

    I think this is yet another case where a grandstanding politician is calling for legislation solely because the phrase "on the Internet" applies. I further think that existing statutes are more than sufficient, if properly and diligently applied, which is of course quite often the problem. (See "Rotherham" for a striking example of failure to...well, failure to do just about everything.)

    Trolling has been part of the 'net since its early days and there's nothing particularly wrong with it. (If such a statute existed and was enforced, half of Usenet's users circa 1986 would have been affected.) Overt threats -- and I mean real ones, not "kill the ump!" in response to a called third strike with runners on the corners -- are covered by existing law...when it's enforced, which is of course a huge part of the problem. Adding another law won't fix that.

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