The British police aren’t doing a great job of adjusting to life with social media. After trying a “common sense approach” to Twitter in the wake of several ludicrous cases, Kent Police have fallen victim, so to speak, to issues surrounding the arrest of a Facebook user.
Said arrest concerns a 19-year-old who, for reasons best known to his own tiny mind, decided to post a photo of a burning poppy on his Facebook page. With an offensive caption. On Remembrance Day. Lovely.
Now, I’m not for such behaviour. Not one iota of me thinks such an image is in the same universal realm as things that are ‘okay’. But extremely offensive images aside, the idea of arresting a person over a Facebook post of this nature sounds insane. The image reportedly falls under section 127 of the Communications Act, which covers sending “a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” on a “public electronic communications network”. Or to the layman in this case, something nasty or threatening posted on the Internet.
This doesn’t sound quite right, and a world away from a ‘common sense approach’. Common sense should dictate if you wouldn’t arrest a person for committing a certain act in public, you shouldn’t arrest them for posting an image of it online. I’m not legal expert, but I suspect you’d be hard-pressed to find a copper who’d arrest someone for burning a poppy. More likely a stern finger wag and a clip ‘round the ear before being moved on (esp if you’re local police station happens to be in Ashfordly).
Expert legal types tend to agree. David Allen Green, the defence loyal for the Paul Chambers / ‘Joke Twitter Trial’ tweeted “Dear idiots at @kent_police, burning a poppy may be obnoxious, but it is not a criminal offence”. He also seems to be starting the hashtag #PoppyCock – clever clogs.
Social media isn’t going to go away, and neither are idiots who choose to use it to peddle their own brand of offensive nonsense. So, the police and social media sites themselves need to come up with a solution to policing content without restricting freedom of speech, or tying up the judicial system with an increasing number of random cases.
That’s obviously an enormous challenge, and won’t happen overnight. The widespread use of social media could lead to the requirement of dedicated team (or department, branch, bureau or other appropriate term) to work with social media sites to deal with complainants, and lay out new legal precedents to cover online activity and offenses.
This may seem crazy – but it’s far saner than trying to arrest everyone who is offensive on Facebook.