There has been lots mentioned about people defaming on the internet by calling someone a liar, or saying some product or company has ripped someone off, but the recent cases of Paul Chambers, Liam Stacey (aged 21), and some of the cases from the London Riots, have highlighted that comments written on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook could land you in prison.
Paul Chambers met a girl on the internet. He arranged to fly to Northern Ireland to meet her. A week before he was due to fly there was snow and the airport closed. He sent her some private messages and then, venting his frustration, he put on Twitter on the 6th January:
“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s**t together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!”
He was joking. It is difficult to imagine any ramifications from this comment if he had said this in a pub or in an office with friends. However, one week later an employee at the airport discovered the tweet and informed the Police. He was arrested under the anti terrorism legislation. He was questioned and detained for 7 hours. He told the police it was a joke. He was charged with an offence contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. The maximum sentence is 6 months in prison. The authorities said that the tweet was “menacing”
He lost his job. He moved, got a new job and appealed. He lost that appeal in the Crown Court and lost his new job.
The infamous riots that took place throughout the country were also in the news. Some people commented on Facebook. Jordan Blackman, aged 20, created an event on Facebook advertising “massive Northwich lootin” and gave a date, time and location. No one showed up. 22 year old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan did something similar. He removed his post the next day. Again no one showed up. hey were eventually sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.
Liam Stacey had been drinking all day watching Rugby. The Welsh rugby team won the Grand Slam. He accepted he had drunk a lot of alcohol when he heard of the collapse of footballer, Fabrice Muamba’s. He wrote on Twitter:
“LOL, F*** Muamba. He’s dead!!! #haha”
This comment was clearly contrary to the general feeling of sympathy for the footballer who was fighting for his life on the football pitch. He immediately received criticism from other people on Twitter. He replied to these criticisms with increasingly racist and inflammatory responses. People were understandably upset and reported him to the Police who arrested him. He pleaded guilty to a racially aggravated offence in Court and received 56 days imprisonment. He had a clean record and for his first offence at Court he was sent to prison. The Crown Prosecution Service had suggested that 6 months prison was not long enough and that it should be sent to the Crown Court.
Fortunately for Mr Stacey the Judge decided against that. Liam Stacey had been a 3rd year student at University. He has now been removed from his course and this will likely affect his future career prospects.
The issue with these social networks is that the comments are immediate, stand alone and can be taken out of context. They are widely circulated. When Ched Evans (footballer) was convicted of rape the identity of the victim is protected so when a number of people named her on Twitter they have fallen foul of this Order. Sixteen people so far have been arrested.
Be careful with what you post online on social networks, those words can affect your job, your personal relationships and even your liberty!