A Twitter’er who racistly mocked the Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba shortly after his heart attack, was jailed for 56 days.
Liam Stacey, a 21 year old undergraduate student from Wales, was tearfully led away from the dock after the judge had labelled his Tweets ‘vile and abhorrent’. His subsequent appeal to his sentence was turned down.
The Student was reported to the police by a number of people, after he drunkenly mocked Muamba on Twitter saying : “Lol! F%&* Muamba, he is dead”.
When challenged by other Twitter users, Stacey retorted with a number of racially offensive remarks about the footballer.
Whilst his sentence comes as no surprise, due to the high profile media attention Muamba’s recovery has received, what is less clear is the implications for Internet users about their online conduct – from here on in.
In another high profile case, two canvassing Welsh councillors ended up in court, with one charged with libel following allegedly slanderous Tweets, during an election campaign.
Additionaly, people who leave negative hotel reviews on review sites such as Tripadvisor, are being threatened with legal action for defamation.
In the US, the constitution protects the notion of freespeech to a certain point (Terrorists and Government Spy Whistleblowers aside). The constitution even protects the rights of Ku Klux Klan members against legal reprisals for their bigoted views, something which plugs into a bygone era.
Either way, with the UK not guaranteeing the right to free speech, expect to see more of these cases brought to trial.
With recent the naming of Super Injunction undertaker Ryan Giggs revealed in parliament by an MP, to protect Twitter users from opening themselves up for legal reprisals. I wouldn’t expect the government to offer this kind of get-out clause to the rest of the blogosphere, unless they have another boatload of summer rioters clogging up the court system.
The difference in the last example was the sheer number of people involved in the Giggs naming incident, unlike Liam Stacey who was a sole voice and… Boy! They made an example out of him.
It does make the threat of government regulation creeping into the internet; a slightly more realised – if scary proposition.