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He will be sentenced later

No no no; doing it wrong. A Yorkshire teenager has been found guilty of “posting an offensive Facebook message.” Posting an offensive Facebook message is a crime?

Azhar Ahmed, 19, of Ravensthorpe, West Yorkshire, was charged with sending a grossly offensive communication.

Waaaaait a second – posting a message on Facebook isn’t “sending” it. It’s more like publishing it. And does adding “grossly” to “offensive” make it a crime?

Apparently it was considered so because it was posted two days after six British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

The offensive message, which said “all soldiers should die and go to hell”, was posted by Ahmed just two days later on 8 March.

……….And?

Facebook has a reporting system. Perhaps the message could have been taken down. Perhaps it should have been – I don’t know enough to have an opinion. But prosecution and conviction? For posting a message on Facebook?

District Judge Jane Goodwin said Ahmed’s Facebook remarks were “derogatory, disrespectful and inflammatory”.

He will be sentenced later.

Oy. Doing it wrong.

 

Comments

  1. says

    That message isn’t even a threat. It doesn’t say “all soldiers will die because my diabolical plan will kill them”. Any phrase of the structure “X should Y” is an opinion.

    Apparently, opinions are not protected speech in the UK if you happen to have a funny sounding name?

  2. A. Noyd says

    “District Judge Jane Goodwin said Ahmed’s Facebook remarks were ‘derogatory, disrespectful and inflammatory’.”

    So, in other words, they were Facebook comments.

  3. B-Lar says

    Unfortunately, following our summer riots, judges have been put under pressure to make judgements on people using social media to promote unpleasantness.

    In the confusion of trying to understand how the systems work they are not applying their common sense, although this particular instance is quite troubling. In the past, judgements have only been handed down when incitement is a factor.

    If they go down this road, then haters of all kinds should watch themselves. Todays misogynists could be tommorrows muslims, and while I would find that darkly humourous it would be as unjust as it is with this case.

  4. Rodney Nelson says

    B-Lar #3

    In the past, judgements have only been handed down when incitement is a factor.

    This is the point where the system breaks down. Incitement is something that legal systems should deal with. Expressing an opinion is not.

  5. smrnda says

    Given the large amount of potentially offensive statements out there, this type of legal action would only ever be applied in an arbitrary and capricious fashion.

  6. sheila says

    Apparently, opinions are not protected speech in the UK if you happen to have a funny sounding name?

    British law does not have the notion of protected speech, except (IIRC) inside the Houses of Parliament. In theory, funny names don’t make any difference.

    I don’t know how much difference it made in practice.

  7. says

    Ahmed was prosecuted under clause 127(1)(a) of the Communications Act 2003. The purpose of the act is to define the rôle of OFCOM and to regulate such things a local radio and indeed any services running over publicly funded or partially publicly funded electronic networks. Section 127 is buried in the middle of it and reads:

    127 Improper use of public electronic communications network
    (1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

    (a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or
    (b) causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

    (2) A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—

    (a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,
    (b) causes such a message to be sent; or
    (c) persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

    (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.
    (4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to anything done in the course of providing a programme service (within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42)).

    As far as I can tell, the intent of the legislation was to stop nuisance calls, but, as can be seen, it is very vague. The judgement is only in a magistrate’s court; personally I think it should be appealed. I think, Ophelia, you have put your finger on two legal problems. Which are:

    (A) What precisely is a message in the context of services like Facebook?

    and:

    (B) What makes a message grossly offensive?

    The second of these is dealt by the Law Lords decision in DPP vs Collins http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldjudgmt/jd060719/collin.pdf In this case Collins had sent repeated telephone messages to his MP in which he called immigrants and asylum seekers “Wogs”, “Pakis”, “Black bastards”, and “Niggers”. One question at issue were whether, in the given context, this was grossly offensive or merely offensive. The context includes the fact that the actual recipient of the message was likely a secretary or an intern and that Collins did not know or care whether this person would be offended.

    The Law Lords found for the DPP (i.e. the messages were grossly offensive) however the criteria they used look like a legal minefield to me:

    “Usages and sensitivities may change over time … there can be no yardstick of gross offensiveness otherwise than by the application of reasonably enlightened, but not perfectionist, contemporary standards to the particular message sent in its particular context.
    “The test is whether a message is couched in terms liable to cause gross offence to whom it relates.”

    As to (A) it seems that a message has to have a recipient or group of recipients. I’m not sure what the distinction is as regards Internet communications. Is there a distinction between a blog post and a comment on the blog? Is there a distinction between posting something on your status and posting the same thing on someone else’s timeline? I’m not sure what Ahmed did and why it was considered to be a message.

    However there is another interesting part of DPP vs Collins. It is made clear that the aim of this particular offence is to prevent a service provided and funded by the public, for the benefit of the public, for the transmission of communications from being used in a way that contravenes certain basic standards. In the UK most of the land line and internet backbone is publicly funded and in practice it is difficult to avoid using them. However it is clear that the law does not apply to a companies private network, it it does not use these services. It would presumably not apply to a message sent over a completely privately owned mobile phone network either.

  8. Anonymouse says

    Wow, what a difference–in Ohio, 16-year-old Alyssa Douglas tweeted that President Barack Obama should be assassinated…and hundreds of apologist leapt in squealing that she shouldn’t even get a talking-to, because after all she was “only expressing her opinion” and she “was only a little girl”.

  9. says

    Wow, thank you, Bernard. I think I might have to put that on the main page too. I know I’m abusing my privilege here but you people just will keep making such informative comments…

  10. latsot says

    Bernard:

    As far as I can tell, the intent of the legislation was to stop nuisance calls, but, as can be seen, it is very vague

    As I understand it, that was indeed the intent: it was supposed to be about protecting people who are being harassed. This story seems like a very clear case of this power being abused, presumably in the name of political expedience. We have an unfortunate history of doing that in the UK, which is one of the reasons we have to be very careful about proposed acts like the opt-out porn filter that quite a few MPs (and, needless to say, the Daily Mail) are very keen on. Even we accept the premise, abuse like this seems inevitable.

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