Should You Ever Be Jailed for Sending Nasty Tweets

In a society where the line between right and wrong shifts as rapidly as ours, it’s not always easy to agree on how things should be. While we all instinctively know what is socially acceptable behavior, things get tricky when deciding what the punishment should be for someone saying something offensive on the internet.

This article will cover social media, free speech, censorship, and personal responsibility. The aim here is not to draw absolute conclusions or make strong decisions, but to invite you to think for yourself and use these ideas to further your conversations with your friends, family and colleagues.

Why are we discussing the dangers and harassment of social media?

First, let’s establish the basis for this discussion. Why are we having this conversation in the first place? We are doing this in light of section 127 of the United Kingdom’s Communications Act 2003 and for the purpose of influencing people’s behavior online.

The Act makes a person guilty of an offense if he posts something that is “highly offensive or indecent, obscene or threatening character” or “causes annoyance, inconvenience or unnecessary anxiety to another.” Frankly, it’s not very clear.

Under this law, a person can be found guilty and imprisoned for making offensive jokes, using racial slurs, etc. towards any individual or group. As reported by The Guardian, this is what happened to Paul Chambers in 2010 when he was arrested for sending a message. Read that joke on twitter.

They did this because of the closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport (formerly Robin Hood Airport) in England and their flight being delayed.

In light of a number of controversies, in 2012 the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, clarified that only credible threats of violence, harassment, or stalking would qualify for criminal prosecution under UK law. But it would not include “unpopular or unfashionable opinions about serious or frivolous matters, or the expression of jest or humour, even if distasteful to some and painful to those subject to it.”

Despite this clarification, on February 3, 2020, Joseph Kelly was found guilty of defaming Captain Sir Tom Moore, an acclaimed British Army officer on the day of his death, tweeting “The only good British soldier is a job, Burn Auld fella buuuurn”

This topic is so prominent because, unlike in the real world, comments you make online are stored as social media content almost forever—unless you delete yourself from the internet, which is practically impossible. than is next to impossible.

So, should you be punished for dirty tweets?

It depends on the level of damage in question. People talk nasty on the internet all the time. Merely insulting someone on social media, saying something negative, or just plain trolling is not harmful enough to constitute a crime and therefore should not be grounds for imprisoning someone.

In Paul Chambers’ case, even if you believe he had ill intentions, his tweet was not a valid offense, given his apparent inability to “blow the airport sky high”. Merely expressing your anger about unfortunate events in life is not a credible threat of violence. Starmer later admitted that prosecuting Chambers was an incorrect “judgment call”.

More serious cases such as harassment, death threats, cyber-bullying, identity theft, phishing, etc. are actually valid offenses because they are more indicative of criminal intent and a clear target.

Simply put, there is a difference between being obnoxious and being spiteful. For the former, social media platforms have community standards and censorship policies that (though not infallible) work to filter out bad side effects of freedom of speech including spam, scams, etc.

As annoying as it is when algorithms fail and take down normal posts, we cannot deny their usefulness in keeping social platforms hospitable. That’s not to say those algorithms don’t need work; They most certainly do, but having them with their flaws is still miles better than not having them.

Granted, you shouldn’t be censored or punished for telling silly jokes, making offensive or mean comments, or anything like that. However, if your actions involve a clear intent (and potential) to dehumanize a person or cause substantial harm, that’s where we draw the line.

Also, it’s good to remind ourselves that social media is still a very new and strange environment in the grand scheme of things, especially for the non-tech-savvy users among us. People are still learning and adapting how they should ideally behave in this, so there should be some room for leniency in a system with strict rules and regulations.

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