A student is in prison this evening for making racist abusive comments on twitter. Googling around, its relatively easy to find what he said, and it is repugnant and disgusting and absolutely utterly inexcusable. But its still a worrying development that it's possible to be arrested and imprisoned for, essentially, being a horrible person.
I don't like sexism, racism, homophobia, or transphobia and i really don't want to read or hear what horrible people have to say. But actually, i'd rather they said it, then i know to avoid them. It's easy to find areas of the net to get angry about, and its just as easy not to go to them and go somewhere more fun instead.
It doesn't take much to start wondering about 1984's Thought Police, who weren't really thought police, but speech police. We have laws against racial hatred, religious hatred, inciting violence and more, but is social media a platform where these laws should be enforced? And if so, does that mean that works of art or music, or film that can be seen as incitement to riot or insurrection should also lead to arrest?
Would Chuck D be arrested if he wrote these words:
Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne
in the UK 2012 rather than the USA in 1989?
So where do we draw the line? The internet is an anarchic medium; anyone can put anything up they like, and that's the beauty of it and it's greatest weakness. The UK doesn't have a constitutional right to freedom of speech as laid down in, for instance, the constitution of the US. It has a tradition of it though, and that's something that's much harder to get rid of.
The wikiocracy is the voice of the average, and averages can't exist without extremes. At the extreme ends of humans we see Stalin and Gandhi, both heroes to some and villains to others; we see the greatest levels of stupidity and the greatest leaps of human intelligence. If we imprison people for saying what's on their mind because we disagree of find it offensive, what happens when someone else takes offence to something we've said? Are we all ready to defend our words in court?