According to astonishing data published by the Metropolitan police, arrests in London for “offensive” social media posts have soared in the last year.
Arrests for obscenity and offensive messages on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have increased by 37 percent since 2010 in the city.
The police say that the most common type of arrest is for “Sending messages intended to offend or menace,” which accounts for over 60 percent of these types of crimes. The punishment for committing these types of “crimes” is a six-month prison term or a $5,500 fine.
The arrests were all made under the same legislation which spawned the UK’s infamous Twitter Joke Trial. Using just 135 characters, 28-year-old Paul Chambers tweeted a joke that would go on to capture the country’s attention.
“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky-high!!”
The “joke tweet” was initially deemed not credible by the airport staff that came across it, but police determined that it was enough to warrant an arrest, leading to a precedent-setting guilty verdict. In an essay for The Guardian, Chambers admitted that his frustrated tweet was “ill-advised,” but stated that the initial conviction caused him to believe that he lives “in such a hyper-sensitive world that we cannot engage in hyperbole…without having civil liberties trampled on by, at best, heavy-handed police.”
The case was eventually quashed on appeal (two years and several thousand pounds after the entire ordeal began) and the legislation in question was amended to include interim guidelines on how social media can and should be prosecuted. Under these guidelines, criminal prosecution was made limited to credible threats of violence, harassment, or stalking. Chambers’ threat was deemed not credible, given the audience.
In more recent years, the legislation has been used to arrest Twitter users responsible for making racist or anti-Muslim comments. Among the scores of those recently arrested for inflammatory posts was a Scottish resident who had been using Facebook as a platform to espouse his disdain for Syrian refugees.
Meeting the problem at its source, some British police departments have taken to social media platforms to remind citizens to “think before” posting offensive material.
— GreaterGlasgPolice (@GreaterGlasgPol) April 1, 2016
While citizens of the United Kingdom have largely unimpinged-upon internet access, the most recent Freedom on the Net report states that there is a higher degree of content limitations there than in the U.S. Online harassment remains a problem throughout the world, and the UK is no exception. A recent study found that the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ were used by UK Twitter users 10,000 times in merely three weeks.
But if you want to avoid a brush with the British law, there’s one golden rule. If in doubt, don’t tweet it out.