Online is no longer out of sight (and beyond the law).

The next time Mick Fealty removes your comment from a thread don’t whinge, he may well have saved you a conviction:

An unemployed chef from Londonderry has been convicted of using the social network site Facebook to post a threatening message that said DUP MP Gregory Campbell should be shot.

O’Donnell denied the message was either offensive or menacing.

“Menacing” is a matter of opinion, I guess. If you’re serious about putting a bullet in an MP’s head, then you’re probably unlikely to be advertising the fact in front of thousands on Facebook. But if threatening to do so isn’t considered “offensive” in Mr O’Donnell’s book, then I’d really hate to see what was.

Anyway, the conviction is a first for the UK apparently and the message from now is:

1. Take a deep breath  2.Count to 10  3. And think “do I really mean this?”  before you post in future.

And thank your lucky starts you don’t live in Scotland where not only online death threats, but also an aggressively sung “Queen” or “crossing” could soon leave you with serious problems.

  • keano10

    Im glad this has happened bearing in mind some of the stuff that was directed at Neil Lennon on Facebook. Scotish police have apparently interviewed around a dozen people in connection with internet threats against Lennon including a doctor, a lawyer and a Social Worker… You just never know do you…?

  • pippakin

    There should be no need to threaten people on line or anywhere else.

  • Crubeen

    Saying “X should be shot!” can often be a figure of speech not to be taken too literally. Putting it in writing may be an entirely different matter – it depends on context and the entire content of the alleged comment. The Internet is relatively lawless more from the point of enforcement than any deficiency in legal principle.

    If, for example, Joe from Canada were to defame me here (which being a gentleman he would not do) I have legal redress … but whether in the Courts of Canada or here, or both, is a debatable point which, no doubt, would involve me in horrendous costs with no guarantee of their being recouped in due course. On a moderated forum you risk the ire of the moderator if your comments are intemperate but you have some protection from those who would defame you. On an unmoderated forum, you’re on your on … and it’s a hell-hole out there! You pays your money ..

    I can do flame wars … I can go right to the bone … but at the end of the day what is to be gained? Better to have a civilised discourse, even a darned good argument … but not to the point of threats. If they are made the perpetrator deserves to be run down (figuratively speaking) and brought before the Courts.

    And I declaim, with pride that I have been warned off for my behaviour by two august institutions: –

    A major charity that pointed me in the way of the anti-stalking (by e-mail) and harassment laws for vigorously pursuing a statutory remedy … specifically excluded from the law they tried to turn on me

    A Health and Social Care Trust that bid me stop using abusive language about its staff … being semi-literate and, knowingly(?), putting false and misleading information into a statutorily mandated document

    And damnit all I didn’t shoot one of them!!!

  • George Orwell 1984 is rapidly approaching.

    The internet is either free or it isnt. Theres no mid-way point. Those that advocate these sort of controls are also de-facto endrosing censorship. There are no tangible or enforceable middle limits. Its all subjective, and as its ‘governements’ that make the rules, it will be their standards and to their agendas.

    As a Loyalist yes theres a bit of me thats going ‘good job, he deserved to be prosecuted’. As a citizen of the world and someone who tries to look at events in a broader historical and world wide context though it scares me.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Figure of speech, aye. Sure the next thing you is that we’ll have renegade cops losing the run of themselves and shooting their mouths off online about lifting sectarian rioters off the streets and charging them. Outrageous talk altogteher. Count to ten, constable, count to ten.

    Evenin’ all.

  • foyle observer

    Well Mr Campbell is a hypocrite because, as this footage shows, he states his intention to take up arms whenever Britain withdraws from the North of Ireland with, in his words, ‘untold loss of life’ :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTbebWrj560&feature=related

    Who was he basically saying ‘should be shot’ back then? The general Catholic population i assume.

  • Crubeen

    Quincey,

    “George Orwell 1984 is rapidly approaching.”

    Seems to be a bit late …

    “The internet is either free or it isnt. Theres no mid-way point. Those that advocate these sort of controls are also de-facto endrosing censorship. There are no tangible or enforceable middle limits. Its all subjective, and as its ‘governements’ that make the rules, it will be their standards and to their agendas.”

    The Internet is not free. There is no freedom without concomitant responsibility.

    Freedom of speech does not and must not include a right to threaten, intimidate or bully. Freedom of speech does not include the right to tell lies, defame or attempt to destroy a person’s good name. It does not include the right to exploit the vulnerable through things like child pornography. Any sane society legislates against all of the above – it is entirely reasonnable and to be commended.

    Censorship is somewhat different as it seeks to prevent the dissemination of ideas that run contrary to the perceived interests of the governing elite. Censorship is not compatible with freedom of speech.

    When we talk of rights we should remember that our rights can only be exercised where they do not infringe the rights of others.

  • Nunoftheabove

    foyle observer

    That’s different, the guilty party’s actions were not in alignment with God’s will and words, His Plan. Greg’s on-message. He knows y’know. He gets it.

  • Mac

    “I Want To Kick Abu’s And Anjem’s Head In, Then Proceed Cutting It Off. Shouting Jesus Akbar, Jesus Akbar, Jesus Akbar.” – 5 minutes ago on the EDL’s facebook wall.

    Should I report the young fellah that posted that to the police? Would they care? Or would they answer that if they spent 5 minutes on facebook, or any of the other social networking sites they could find hundreds of examples of people wishing death on others whose opinions differ from their own?
    Does it have to be text? Should I report everyone with that photo-shopped pic of Lennon riddled with bullet holes?

  • Brian

    Since I reside in America, can I say the same thing this cook said and avoid prosecution?

    I have no desire to get Slugger in trouble or myself, I just am curious.

  • Mick Fealty

    Curbeen,

    Is on to the problem here. I have to say I was somewhat taken aback the guy question does not understand why he was successful prosecuted. It may have be somewhat unwise for him to say what he did before the judgement is handed down too.

    The problem it seems to me is that these conversational spaces feel like you are ‘saying’ rather than ‘writing’. What you say about a public figure down the pub may be slanderous, but most get away with it, because it is generally said out of the earshot of the person being slandered or the burden of proof is too much or the effects of what’s being said are too local and particular so that the wider publicity a prosecution might bring is not a wise option on the part of the offended party.

    On the net, it may feel like slander/banter… but if you commit to writing the law is very clear. You need to be damned careful about what you say. There is such a thing as freedom of speech, but only within certain prescribed bounds. There is no license to slander, defame or make threats (see Paul Chambers and the Robin Hood airport case, or the Belfast civil servant who got locked up for joking he had a bomb in his bag on the London tube).

  • slappymcgroundout

    “should get a bullet in the head”

    That’ll do it. Is a federal crime in the US to threaten any federal official, with the severity of the offense ranging the scale from the President (class D felony) on down to the lowest federal official. Also a crime to threaten a family member of federal official.

    The lines that some have went down for:

    President Wilson ought to be killed. It is a wonder some one has not done it already. If I had an opportunity, I would do it myself.

    Wilson is a wooden-headed son of a bitch. I wish Wilson was in hell, and if I had the power I would put him there.

    hang [President] Roosevelt [on a poster]

    But depends on the times, I suppose, since this was not enough to convict, or more correctly, was a conviction that was overturned on appeal:

    They always holler at us to get an education. And now I have already received my draft classification as 1-A and I have got to report for my physical this Monday coming. I am not going. If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is LBJ.

    Had something to do with the threat being “conditional”, see the “if”. Of course, the first two above are conditional as well. Perhaps the difference is the matter of just who controls the “if”, i.e., the one soul does not want to join the war so unless someone else makes him, no problem, whereas the other two seem to simply be waiting for the right opportunity, which they presumably can help create on their own.

    As regards you libel law, well, is one reason why I never anticipate going to your part of the world. As a matter of principle. Since a US court would likely refuse to uphold the judgment in any event, seeing as how your law does not accord one what we here consider free speech (not so much with respect to what our law considers “private persons” but with respect to both “public figures” and “matters in the public interest”). Actually, that was the usual practice here. Now federal law makes the reality plain:

    Sec. 4102. Recognition of foreign defamation judgments

    (a) First Amendment Considerations.–
    (1) In general.–Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal or State law, a domestic court shall not recognize or enforce a foreign judgment for defamation unless the domestic court determines that–
    (A) the defamation law applied in the foreign court’s adjudication provided at least as much protection for freedom of speech and press in that case as would be provided by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and by the constitution and law of the State in which the domestic court is located; or
    (B) even if the defamation law applied in the foreign court’s adjudication did not provide as much protection for freedom of speech and press as the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the constitution and law of the State, the party opposing recognition or enforcement of that foreign judgment would have been found liable for defamation by a domestic court applying the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the constitution and law of the State in which the domestic court is located.

    And do you recall that college student from Washington who was accused and convicted of killing her roommate in Italy (along with her boyfriend and the one other soul)? Her parents gave an interview with a US paper and they were charged with some ridiculous crime in Italy. Wasn’t the first time. So we have as well in the new law:

    (b) Jurisdictional Considerations.–
    (1) In general.–Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal or State law, a domestic court shall not recognize or enforce a foreign judgment for defamation unless the domestic court determines that the exercise of personal jurisdiction by the foreign court comported with the due process requirements that are imposed on domestic courts by the Constitution of the United States.

    And, for Mick, you might want to transfer your savings and retirement account to a US financial institution, literally, i.e., a branch of such an institution physically located in the US. For why:

    (c) Judgment Against Provider of Interactive Computer Service.–
    (1) In general.–Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal or State law, a domestic court shall not recognize or enforce a foreign judgment for defamation against the provider of an interactive computer service, as defined in section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 230) unless the domestic court determines that the judgment would be consistent with section 230 if the information that is the subject of such judgment had been provided in the United States.

    And the relevant part of 47 USC 230 that saves your rear end:

    (c) PROTECTION FOR `GOOD SAMARITAN’ BLOCKING AND SCREENING OF OFFENSIVE MATERIAL-

    (1) TREATMENT OF PUBLISHER OR SPEAKER- No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

    And note also:

    Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 958 F. Supp. 1124 (E.D.Va. 1997), affirmed 129 F.2d 327 (4th CIr. 1997) (court applied 230(c)(1) in holding AOL not liable for defamatory statement contained in posting in various AOL bulletin boards by an AOL subscriber.)

    Blumenthal v. Drudge and AOL, pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Case Number 97-CV-1968. AOL raised § 230(c)(1) as a defense to Blumenthal’s claim that AOL is liable for alleged defamation of content provider Drudge. On 4/22/98 the District Court granted AOL’s Motion for Summary Judgment based on §230. The case proceeds against Drudge alone.

  • Should I report the young fellah that posted that to the police? Would they care? Or would they answer that if they spent 5 minutes on facebook, or any of the other social networking sites they could find hundreds of examples of people wishing death on others whose opinions differ from their own

    Mac,

    Well, a precedent has been surely set in this case, so I don’t see why not.

    The problem with the precedent and even more so when the proposed anti-sectarianism law in Scotland finally kicks in is not the message it sends but the practicalities.

    As you say, the internet is full of such threats made by generally spotty, adolescent inadequates from the safety of their bedroom. Once the Scottish Premiership season starts and the Guardians of Online Old Firm Morality realise the implications of new legislation are the police going to devote the hundreds of officers that will be surely required to follow up and prosecute each case? If not, then what’s the point in trying to control it in the first place?

  • Mrs jones

    George Orwell 1984 is rapidly approaching.-On a scale of 1 to 10 we’re probably at about the 9.5 mark already.
    They’ll find someway to ‘police’ debates.The conviction may be the first.It won’t be the last.From ‘bebo’ to ‘facebook’ to ‘1 conviction,albeit ‘probation’,it’s a warning from up above to down below.In all fairness to Mick Fealty he’s giving eveybody ‘an equal opportunity to take note’.How do you square the circle in the triangle of the law,the media and the government?As Crubeen says-
    Censorship is somewhat different as it seeks to prevent the dissemination of ideas that run contrary to the perceived interests of the governing elite. Censorship is not compatible with freedom of speech.

  • South Belfast Hack

    There’s no attack on freedom of speech here. Mr O’Donnell was free to say, “Gregory Campbell I disagree with you in the strongest possible terms.” He crossed the line when he incited violence.

  • Mickles

    Wait, wait, wait….wait. Gregory Campbell has a computer? Someone should get him Encarta 96 so he can learn about evolution.

  • I suppose this conviction shows that you can express an opinion and make a threat with the same words.

    It becomes a little bit far fetched when you think of it this way. The threat from the words depend upon somebody, who has access to a shooting weapon, is so influenced by them that he will act on their literal suggestion.

    You would sort of expect something like that to happen in the dark ages when Henry II of England made an overture which resulted in four knights murdering Thomas Beckett.

    I suppose there were no blogs in the time of Henry II but he would still have been concerned about Fealty