A biology student at Swansea University has been jailed for 56 days after posting racist comments on Twitter about Fabrice Muamba – the football player who is seriously ill after having a heart attack. He has been jailed on the grounds of inciting racial hatred, following a number of complaints from other Twitter users.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I’m very pleased to see racism being taken seriously. On the other hand, I’m wondering why the staff of the Daily Mail aren’t in prison on similar grounds. It’s also a bit unclear to me whether things one says on Twitter, and other such social networking sites, should be treated in this sort of way. On the one hand, using Twitter feels very informal. One can have conversations on Twitter, rant about things that have upset one, have a bit of a moan, and do all the sort of things one might do in a verbal conversation. On the other hand, one’s tweets are broadcast far wider than one’s conversations, and are in the world as public items long after one first writes them, there waiting for other folks to stumble across them in a way that one’s conversations are not. Thus they shouldn’t be treated exactly like casual conversations, but neither should they be treated exactly like pamphlets, newspapers, political manifestos, books, and so on.
I might also note that my opinion on this matter will no doubt be swayed by the content of the tweets, which the judge called ‘vile and abhorrent’. The BBC has had the good sense not to republish them. But I can imagine if they called for violence against blacks, or something along those lines, I might very well feel there’s no ambiguity about what should have been done in this case.
What do you think?
You can read more about the case here.