In a shocking case this week, the internet 'troll' otherwise known as Sean Duffy was given a maximum sentence (a paltry 18 weeks) for tormenting the families of young girls who had committed suicide. In the case of one such girl - a 15 year old whose life was full of promise and who I shall not name out of respect for her grieving family - she was hounded into taking her own life by 'cyber-bullying' in the first place ; and, not content with that, this admittedly Asperger suffering b*stard still saw fit to pick-up-the-baton and continue her suffering - and that of her family - from the far side of the grave.
The Court was told that, whilst Duffy's medical condition did not explain or excuse his actions, his modus operandi was to post mocking messages on tribute and In Memoriam web-sites and Facebook pages set-up by the girls' families and friends. In one particularly depraved attack on the memory of a young girl who died by jumping in front of a train, the accused (and now convicted) superimposed the girl's face onto the front of a Thomas The Tank Engine train and posted the ensuing 'video' on YouTube. Fortunately, that video is no longer there - and, if it had been, we would have removed it immediately on point of principal - although the poor parents told the familiar tale of not being able to actually speak with anyone at social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter ... .. anonymous, on-line forms can be filled-in, but that's as far as 99.9% of people will ever get, no matter how serious the problem and it's even taken Web Sheriff years to build-up relations at these faceless monoliths to the point where we're able to pick-up-the phone and speak with people we know within these organisations to fast-track serious issues ... .. how come social media companies are so unsociable - could it be, perhaps, that they were all originally created by Uber-Geeks who (mis)spent their youth in front of computer screens 20 hours a day and who never fully appreciated the importance of human interaction ?!
Bearing-in-mind that - worryingly and sickeningly - internet bullying is becoming more-and-more prevalent, it's a ridiculous state-of-affairs that, with only the already outdated Malicious Communications Act 1988 (An Act to make provision for the punishment of persons who send or deliver malicious communications) at the Judge's disposal, the Court was unable to hand-down a sentence of more than 18 weeks. This is clearly insufficient - especially in the case of 'people' who try to torment others into killing themselves. In a similar vein and scarcely believably, Facebook recently tried to refuse to close-down a death-threat group who wanted to "kill" (their words, not mine) one of our TV celebrity clients ... .. having reminded Facebook of the terms & conditions of membership published on their own web-site and which this 'group' was clearly in breach of, we ended-up having to threaten Court action before common-sense prevailed and they acknowledged that a group called "KILL ###" might not exactly be a sub-section of the Salvation Army (his name is not 'BILL' by the way). As a somewhat happier postscript, we have the details of the twisted individual who set-up this group and The Police shall now be involved (although, to avoid disappointment, we're not talking about the Sting / Andy Summers / Stuart Copeland reunion tour).
On a more uplifting - but equally alarming - note, an Iranian democracy blogger was flogged this week for her writings ... .. when I say "uplifting" I'm not, of course, referring to Somayeh Tohidlou's punishment, but to the fact that her female guards in Tehran's notorious Evin (or should that be 'Evil' ?) prison actually refused to flog her and, when a male guard was eventually found to administer the punishment, he tapped her so gently as to make a mockery of the whole process ... .. maintaining her dignity throughout, Somayeh - who almost single-handedly introduced the concept of social media to Iranian politics in her role as an advisor to Mir Hossein Mousavi during 2009's controversial presidential 'election' campaign - continues to be an inspiration, particularly to women and her Facebook page has been inundated with support.
In certain other countries, however (Libya up to a few weeks ago springs-to-mind), the regimes would not be nearly as 'tolerant' - to stretch that word's true meaning to breaking-point - and political blogging can literally cost you your life. For now at least, I don't think that Call-Me-Dave will have MI5 on my tail but, if I ever did submit to the Cat o' Nine Tails, I'm sure there'd be plenty of internet 'pirates' in line who wouldn't pull-their-punches!