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This House believes that free speech in the UK should include social media
This House believes that free speech in the UK should include social media
Free Speech Debate blog: Even malicious tweets need protection
Another overly broad and misguided British law has reared its ugly head in the digital age to stifle free speech. Dorset Police invoked the 1988 Malicious Communications Act yesterday morning to arrest a 17-year-old who sent a string of insensitive tweets to Olympic diver Tom Daley after he failed to win a medal on Monday. Police released the unnamed teen on bail and issued him a harassment warning, but the resurfacing of the 1988 Act and its continued existence has proved unnerving for free speech advocates.
Some of the teen’s tweets in question read: “You let your dad down i hope you know that” and “I’m going to find you and I’m going to drown you in the pool…”. Given that Daley’s father died last year from brain cancer, these tweets were certainly tasteless. But did they pose a genuine threat to the young athlete’s life? No. YouTube comments have demonstrated time and again that vitriol flows freely behind the shroud of assumed online anonymity. Malicious or not, any communication that merely intends to offend should not be grounds for prosecution.
The 1988 Act punishes, with up to six months in prison, any person who sends an indecent, grossly offensive, threatening, or false message with the intent of causing stress or anxiety. Under this law, a slightly edgy April Fools’ joke could be construed as “malicious communication”. Nowhere is humour or ignorance listed as grounds for defence under the Act.
Several weeks ago, Free Speech Debate director Timothy Garton Ash outlined the absurdities inherent in an overly broad Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act. This 1988 Act, which has proved dangerously vague and open to (mis)interpretation, should be subject to similar review. Meant to protect individuals from harm, it has now been invoked to stifle unpleasant speech.
As the US supreme court permits the Westboro Baptist Church to protest homosexuality at military funerals, British law should uphold Twitter users’ right to offend. Although unsavoury, offensive speech is that which most needs protection.
The aftermath of these particular tweets is just one of the many high-profile Twitter cases that have recently made headlines. Maryam Omidi wrote a case study in April about Liam Stacey, a 21-year-old student who was sentenced to 56 days in prison for posting racially offensive comments on Twitter. Last week, a man who jokingly threatened to blow up Robin Hood Airport on Twitter won a challenge overturning his conviction of sending a “menacing electronic communication”. This week, Twitter and NBC teamed up to briefly suspend a journalist’s account after he criticised the US TV network’s Olympics coverage. Bringing things full circle, a Welsh Premier League footballer was suspended today for allegedly sending a homophobic tweet to, you guessed it, Tom Daley.
Twitter has not seen this much controversy since last year’s super-injunction debacle. In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring how social media platforms and vague laws have been used and abused to advance and stifle free speech. Keep visiting Free Speech Debate for the latest updates and controversies.
 Team Blog, 'Malicious tweets deserve criticism, not police time', FreeSpeechDebate, 1 August 2012, http://freespeechdebate.com/en/2012/08/even-malicious-tweets-need-protection/
|Points For||Points Against|
|Digital free speech on social networking sites should not be limited.||Social media communication is inherently different than traditional means of communication|
|Current legislation is out of date for a digital age||The scale of digital communication means it can cause greater emotional harm|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Digital free speech on social networking sites should not be limited.
Freedom of speech is a basic right for every human as being able to express ones opinions is an innate part of our humanity. We are sentient beings who form our own opinions and should be able to express those opinions. This should be especially the case in the UK as Free speech is one of the trademarks of a prosperous democracy. Those living in a western democracy expect to have the right to say whatever we feel like no matter whether we are online or offline - without the fear of prosecution.
This is an area where countries like the UK regularly criticize other countries states, take China for example Amnesty International reports that the Chinese cannot face prosecution if they accused of communicating with groups abroad, calling for reform and an end to corruption through chat rooms, instance messaging, email, or text messages. Nearly 50 people were detained or arrested during the crackdown of the “Jasmine” protests that were occurring in response to the Arab Spring. 
Social networks like twitter are an amazing way to exercise our right to freedom of speech yet it is something we choose to take part in. Those networks recognize they are providing a platform for free speech by including in their terms and conditions for example twitter has “You understand that by using the Services, you may be exposed to Content that might be offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate, or in some cases, postings that have been mislabeled or are otherwise deceptive.” Those on the site have accepted this. The state should not be getting involved in micromanaging our freedom of speech. Our actions, not our words should be regulated by the states.
 Amnesty International. “Annual Report: China.” http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/china/report-2012#section-28-3
There are limits to free speech, even when on social media sites. The free speech that this debate refers to is when it becomes offensive. Tom Daley does live in a prosperous western democracy and enjoys the rights of the freedom of speech.
However, with digital communication, he is facing unwarranted attention, and harassment. While it is not in person, that does not make it okay to tell someone “I’m going to find you and I’m going to drown you in the pool…” just because you said it on Twitter rather than in person does not make it any less threatening or less emotionally distressing.
We should be living in a society where we respect individuals, and not be harassing them either online or offline. Tolerance needs be more apparent in our society, it is perfectly fine to have different opinions, as long as we respect others opinions.Improve this
Current legislation is out of date for a digital age
The problem is that both these documents are grossly broad, completely subjective, and open to interpretation. The intention is to protect individuals form being harmed, but these two Acts are so broad that if the recipient finds what you said offensive, indecent, threatening, or causes them stress or anxiety then you can be prosecuted. For example the Malicious Communications act makes it an offence to send “a message which is indecent or grossly offensive; a threat; or information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender; or any article or electronic communication which is, in whole or part, of an indecent or grossly offensive nature”. So basically anything that causes any offence.
With regards to Tom Daley the police arrested a teenager who had made several tweets about him, including the well publicised: “You let your dad down I hope you know that” and “I’m going to find you and drown you in a pool.” While both these comments are inappropriate, and may have caused offence, this teenager did not genuinely pose a realistic threat to Tom Daley’s life.
The communication alone should not enough for grounds of prosecution, there must be some intention to be enough for a prosecution. Simply saying something horrible does not mean that person will do those horrible things- in a society that truly believes in free speech, one should be able to say what they like, irrespective of whether or not it was tasteful.
They are not out of date, first of all, the 1988 Malicious Communications Act was updated in 2001.
Furthermore, those messages especially in a high volume are very distressing, and cause anxiety to the recipient. Tom Daley is an Olympic athlete and is a relevantly recent public figure- hearing in mass volumes that people thing he is an awful, and that his deceased father would be upset at his performance, would unnerve even the most resilient public person.
The purpose of the Act is to protect people from harm and being subjected to emotional distress is harmful. This is extended to messages that have the intention of causing distress or anxiety- which is exactly what those messages did. It is not about the physical act, but the result for causing distress and anxiety to another citizen.
The intention of free speech is not to give the public license to act maliciously towards one another. The purpose and intention of these two Acts have not changed with the rise of digital mediums of communication.
Social media communication is inherently different than traditional means of communication
Sending messages on Facebook, Twitter and in blogs is strikingly different than writing a letter or speaking to someone on the phone. Communicating on the internet enables you to be anonymous. This is not enjoyed by more traditional means of technology. As a result, people say things online that they would not say to someone in person.
The internet and sites like YouTube and Twitter allowed every person to become a journalist, publisher and a broadcaster. However, there is a limit to what is appropriate to say in a public forum, and trolling is not one of them. The media understands where the invisible line is, many members of the public do not. The incident with Tom Daley demonstrates that people online are willing to cross this line, as a teenager was the one responsible for all the knowingly harassing, malicious messages.
 The Telegraph, 'Hunt for Tom Daley Twitter troll: seaside police raid nets suspect, 17', 31 July 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/diving/9442445/Hunt-for-Tom-Daley-Twitter-troll-seaside-police-raid-nets-suspect-17.html
Our ability to communicate is what makes us human, and the means in which we do may change over time, but essentially it is the same thing.
Posting in blogs, YouTube, and Twitter is just like being in a crowd- it is just in a virtual reality. You are anonymous, and have the right to say as you please.
If you can say it out loud than you should be able to say it online. Digital or in real life, it should make no difference. Free speech is the right to have the ability to say that you think someone is a horrible swimmer. What makes the British democracy any different than Chinese communism if we are not able to say what we want without fear of punishment?
A month ago (July 2012), the UN declared the Internet a basic human right, including (inter alia) "freedom of expression". This creates an expectation that the same freedoms extended to other media would also apply to online media, including social media.1
1 Ralph, Talia, 'UN deems Internet access a basic human right', globalpost, 6 July 2012, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/politics/diplomacy/120706/un-deems-internet-access-basic-human-right-0Improve this
The scale of digital communication means it can cause greater emotional harm
In the age of social media and Twitter thousands of people can see and comment on a post every minute. The viewership is huge, and the effect can multiply out of control instantaneously. This means for public figures like Tom Daley it means that thousands if not millions see, and often respond to or comment on, any horrible things that are said about them.
The messages were upsetting to Tom Daley and they caused emotional distress, which is exactly what the 1988 Malicious Communications Act is for.
Online harassment is happening to many more people than we realize. Nearly 1 in 5 young people are victims of cyber bullying in the UK. For young boys and girls who are in their formative years, this can have a massive impact on their self-confidence and their personality. The emotional damage is the same as if they were physically beaten- the only difference, it is a great deal easier to bully someone online than in person. It is therefore right that the police treat such actions as the crime it is.
 Press Association, 'Almost one fifth of youngsters cyberbullied', guardian.co.uk, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/aug/01/cyber-bullying-victims
With the Twitter incident, he dealt with it online, by exposing the troll to his 600,000 followers. The digital embarrassment caused for the troll, Riley, forced him to apologise profusely, eventually asking Daley to “stop getting me hate.” 
Daley was not the only one who was emotional harmed by this incident, but nobody was charged for what they said to Riley.
Free speech needs to be for everyone, irrespective of what they are saying, or through what medium they are saying it.
 The Telegraph, 'London Olympics 2012: Tom, Daley exposes Twitter troll', 31 July 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/diving/9439551/London-Olympics-2012-Tom-Daley-exposes-Twitter-troll.html
Team Blog, 'Malicious tweets deserve criticism, not police time', FreeSpeechDebate, 1 August 2012, http://freespeechdebate.com/en/2012/08/even-malicious-tweets-need-protection/
Amnesty International. “Annual Report: China 2011.” http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/china/report-2012#section-28-3
The Crown Prosecutor. Malicious Communications Act 1988. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/27
The Crown Prosecutor. Public Order Act 1986. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1986/64
The Crown Prosecutor . Annotations. Malicious Communications Act 1988. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/27
Almost one fifth of youngsters cyberbullied. The Guardian. 1st August 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/aug/01/cyber-bullying-victims
Hunt for Tom Daley Twitter troll: seaside police raid nets suspect, 17. The Telegraph. 31st July 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/diving/9442445/Hunt-for-Tom-Daley-Twitter-troll-seaside-police-raid-nets-suspect-17.html
London Olympics 2012: Tom Daley exposes Twitter troll. The Telegraph. 31st July 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/diving/9439551/London-Olympics-2012-Tom-Daley-exposes-Twitter-troll.html
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