A 56-day jail sentence could be awaiting Liam Stacey if his appeal today is unsuccessful. Stacey is the 21-year-old student who tweeted racist comments about Fabrice Muamba and was found guilty of inciting racial hatred under the Public Order Act 1986. A little bit of legal lingo before my comment on the case begins.
Section 17 of the Public Order Act 1986 defines racial hatred as 'hatred against any group of persons in Great Britain defined by reference to colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins'. There are two basic requirements: the words or behaviour used must be 'threatening, abusive or insulting' and secondly, the words or behaviour must either have been intended to incite racial hatred or were likely to do so.
Stacey tweeted: "LOL. F*** Muamba he's dead!!! #haha". His tweet caused anger amongst Twitter users, before he went on to send further tweets, and according to the Huffington Post, he suggested one of his detractors "go pick some cotton". Some could argue that Stacey had no intention to incite racial hatred, but was simply doing it for a laugh. It becomes the judges' task when it comes to comments on Twitter whether tweets are likely to incite racial hatred even if unintended.
There can be no other suggestion but that the judges were right about the nature of the comments written, when they described them as "vile and abhorrent". We have already seen an increase in allegedly racist outbursts, not forgetting the lady on the tram from Croydon and other little occurrences which have recently emerged. Without a doubt, racism needs to be fought and discouraged, but what we have here is a situation where statements were published on Twitter.
This is not the first appearance of a tweeter in court. Last year we saw tweeters breaching super- injunctions and relaying confidential information through social networking. Judges have had to become more in tuned with the technological advancements and allow the law to play catch up with the age of social networking.
So, what could all this mean for other students who tweet or update their Facebook status regularly?
Always remember, all the calls for "freedom of speech" is only absolute in the USA, whilst here in the United Kingdom it is a restricted right and therefore, there are a number of limitations to it. Although Twitter may be the place you let off steam or rant about your mind's preoccupations, remember the law is slowly catching up with technology. We are slowly putting away the dusty books and going DIGITAL! Policing the World Wide Web is certainly no easy task but sending those who are charged to jail does serve as a clear deterrent for the rest.
Be careful what you publish on Twitter or Facebook, DO NOT:
1. Write a comment which will lower anyone's status in the eyes of society
2. Write comments to encourage rioting!! Or any breach of the peace
3. Write comments which will incite racial hatred.
4. Write "Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get
your sh*t together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" To use the
true story of Paul Chambers.
Yes perhaps, it is best to stick to updates of your love life!
Follow Angelique Pouponneau on Twitter: www.twitter.com/foreignstudents