THE BLOG

The Ched Evans case betrays a disturbing trend in modern society

23/10/2014 12:31 BST | Updated 23/12/2014 10:59 GMT

I must confess that the initial rape case involving Ched Evans passed me by completely. I missed the initial accusation, arrest, charges, trial and subsequent conviction. My failing memory seems to recall hearing the news that he had been jailed simply because it made 5Live news that a serving professional footballer was sent to prison.

I say all of this at the start to simply make the point that I had no prior knowledge of the story. The furore surrounding his release however has been headline news for days and no one could have failed to see or hear some of it.

What strikes me as bizarre however is how technology has changed the way this story is being played out.

This morning's news announced that the online petition to prevent him from playing again for Sheffield United has now reached over 150,000 signatures. Even the lady who started the petition has admitted that she only expected 'a few hundred women to sign it'.

It has generated polar opposite reactions amongst the public. Vicious rhetoric on the petition itself, conflated opinions and half truths whipping up a frenzy amongst like minded individuals. On Twitter those who oppose the petition have taken to abusing the lady who created it and opponents of Mr Evans have taken to abusing his girlfriend who has stood by him through his sentence whilst he continues to protest his innocence.

As I write this the media are reporting that he is 'holed up' somewhere trying to avoid media attention.

In all of this, and virtually every newspaper has devoted column inches to it, the one thing that seems to be missing is the real point of the argument.

It is not an argument about whether he is guilty or innocent. It is not about whether he should be allowed to resume his career as a professional footballer. It is now about the rule of law in this country and whether we can allow mob rule to dictate justice or not.

To debate whether he is innocent or guilty is futile; he was tried and found guilty in a court of law and sent to prison. To argue that his high profile position means that he is in the public eye an as such should not be allowed to go back to work is equally wrong.

Anyone else, in any other walk of life, would be allowed to reintegrate into their lives and having spent their conviction they would be allowed to earn a living again. What is at stake here though is whether the rule of law should be overruled by the rule of the mob.

If the petition is successful and he is denied the chance to play football again then irrespective of the crime, irrespective of the sentence, we will have taken a small step towards anarchy. We either agree to abide by the law or we don't. If we disagree with his sentence then that is a matter for the courts, not individuals to decide.

And in all of this, at the heart of everything is the digital environment in which we live.

Without the internet the petition would have a handful of signatures. Without social media there would have been limited coverage of this case and more importantly the keyboard warriors who hurl hate and bile at both sides of the argument would have no platform. His girlfriend would not have been targeted by trolls hurling hate and spite at her and the victim in the crime would not have had her identity revealed and had to move home and change identities.

The Internet has given us instant communication making it easier to whip up a mob, far easier to spread a story irrespective of its accuracy and allows all of us the room for righteous indignation and complete anonymity.

We argue long and hard that the internet should be free and we eschew restrictions on our freedom of speech but then display behavior that brings into question our ability to deal with the responsibilities of that freedom.

The internet has brought about so much change for good and so many advantages to so many people but we cannot however allow it to be a substitute for the law. What is at stake here is not just Mr Evans right to a future, but all of our rights to a future.