Target: UK Parliament
Goal: Review laws and guidelines for protecting freedom of speech in social media throughout the United Kingdom
The right to freedom of speech and expression—even offensive and discriminatory speech—is a hallmark of a democratic society. Yet, recently in the United Kingdom, instances of such expression in the realm of social media have been met with legal prosecutions. Affecting a democratic country like Great Britain, these restrictions on online speech are especially troubling for the future of the global fight against internet censorship. Ask the United Kingdom’s legislators to reassess laws regulating expression in social media and create new guidelines to assist government officials in handling cases of inflammatory online speech.
Clearly, those that fight for freedom of speech worldwide will not always be in agreement with the words and ideas such freedom may produce. In the UK, for example, a nineteen-year old man posted sexual comments about two missing girls presumed dead. Another man’s Facebook page displayed statements about dead soldiers. And another man tweeted racist remarks about a very ill black soccer player.
Although these comments are offensive or disagreeable, this does not mean those individuals should be prohibited from sharing them. Freedom of speech protects exactly that, and yet, each of these individuals has faced some sort of legal repercussion.
Distinctions must be made between protecting individual’s free speech and protecting individual safety. However, recent rulings in the UK courts show an inconsistency here as well. A seventeen-year old boy was merely cautioned when police officers caught him tweeting death threats against a British Olympic swimmer, and a July panel of High Court judges overturned the 2010 conviction of a man caught tweeting threats to blow up a local airport due to frustrations over bad weather.
Yet, lower courts and other officials have gone ahead with prosecutions when handling similar cases. Such discrepancies jeopardize public safety, send a confusing message to law enforcement officials and the average citizen alike, and lay down no firm foundation for online free speech.
Ask the UK’s legislators to investigate this important issue. New laws and guidelines are crucial to the protection of UK citizens’ safety and freedom.
Dear UK Parliament,
Recent prosecutions in the United Kingdom of individuals for material posted to social media sites call into question the rights of UK citizens to freedom of speech and expression. While we may disagree with discriminatory or offensive language found online, those individuals responsible for its promulgation still have a right to speak their minds. If this essential right is not protected, the UK may find a key pillar of its democracy in jeopardy.
I ask that you reconsider and reevaluate laws and guidelines in effect for dealing with online speech. While public safety is paramount, consistency is necessary in dealing with potential online criminals. In-depth investigations must be completed before any prosecutions are made. The right of every citizen to freely express him or herself must be upheld.
The UK stands in a unique position as a democratic and global force. Other countries will look to Great Britain to set the standard for freedom of speech and expression in the social media realm.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Eric Clayton