Facebook troll jailed — why can’t people be adults?

Picture from 1958 of the crashed aeroplane on fire at MunichBBC News - Reading man jailed for dead girl 'trolling' insults

A man has been jailed for 18 weeks for posting insulting messages on Facebook pages dedicated to young people who had died, in one case a 15-year-old girl who had committed suicide in Reading after being bullied. He posted other tasteless messages on various forums related to young people who had died tragic deaths. The 25-year-old man suffers from alcoholism and Asperger’s syndrome.

This is not the first time this year that someone has been prosecuted for making jokes which offend people without raising the serious risk of violence. In March, a man received a suspended sentence for infiltrating a video made by Crawley Town FC supporters and making “aircraft gestures”, intended to mock those who died in the 1958 Munich air crash, which included eight Manchester United players (the so-called Busby Babes). While I can see how this could cause serious disturbance if the disaster had been recent, 1958 is a long time ago (this man was 19 and it is most likely that his parents were not born then and his grandparents were only children) and anyone getting seriously worked up about someone mocking an event that happened more than fifty years ago is taking the game a little bit too seriously.

The police should not be involved in matters like this: it’s tasteless and nasty, but hurting someone’s feelings should not be a criminal offence. It should be a matter of deleting the man’s comments and, if they persist, removing him from the site. Unless there is a threatening element to it and there appears to be a risk of violence or it interferes with someone being able to live their life, such things should be a private matter, and adults should not expect to be able to run to authority like a kid in the playground running to teacher when someone posts something nasty about them on a website. The laws which make prosecutions for such petty misdemeanours possible should be repealed, or drastically reformed, as free speech should not be curtailed by vague catch-all laws.

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