Is Liam Stacey’s jailing after his Muamba tweets a step too far?

Musa Okwonga

141967486 199x300 Is Liam Staceys jailing after his Muamba tweets a step too far?56 days. Liam Stacey got drunk, trolled people on Twitter who were fearing the death of Bolton Wanderer’s Fabrice Muamba, and has been sent to jail for 56 days. Something feels excessive about this.

Let’s make no mistake: Stacey’s conduct was about as reprehensible as you’re likely to find online. He publicly mocked a man whom he believed to be dying. He then attacked those who opposed him with racist epithets. He caused untold distress to hundreds, possibly thousands of people, and District Judge John Charles considered that he had encouraged others to do the same.

But, but, but. 56 days in jail still seems like too much of the wrong sentence. My gut reaction, when I first read of the judgment, was that a very stiff community penalty would suffice. Perhaps Stacey could have been made to work the type of hours in the type of places that refugees work. Then he might have understood better their daily burdens, which hatred like his only serves to increase. That, combined with the adverse publicity that accompanied his trial, would probably have sufficed.

But. Maybe I have got this wrong. Stan Collymore, the former footballer and current pundit, has been unequivocal on the matter. “Seems to be a few who think that calling someone a W*g, ni***r or c**n and being arrested for it is an infringement of F[reedom] o[f] S[peech]. Idiots,” he tweeted yesterday. “It starts with a word, it ends in a stabbing somewhere. That’s why it’s illegal. Soppy liberal tree huggers. Don’t have a clue.”

Harsh words. I wonder, though, if we all – the justice system included – are still getting used to social media and its unprecedented ability to channel extreme surges of emotion; to cause, often lazily, instantaneous and widespread offense.  On that evening when Muamba collapsed, Twitter felt as visceral as anything can in the digital age: it briefly felt like there were hundreds of thousands of us, maybe millions, sitting anxiously in the hospital waiting room for further news. Stacey’s comments, to those who read then, must have been the equivalent of a gloating skinhead charging in.

Well, if Stacey didn’t realise the power of social media to outrage, he does now, and forever will. Many will welcome his imprisonment, considering that the justice system has done well to move with the times, but I can’t help but feel that the long arm of the law has overreached.  I also question the type of precedent that this sets. If we truly are to stamp out prejudice of this type – if the Stacey ruling is not to end up as an anomaly – then that means pursuing the authors of Twitter accounts such as Sickipediabot and TheFunnyRacist, both of whom are routinely and calculatedly offensive. Worse still, they boast hundreds of thousands of followers.

If Tweeters like this are pursued, then we can view the Stacey ruling as a strategic step in removing bigotry and its harmful effects from the online sphere.  At the moment, though, the 56-day jail sentence seems to be more cathartic than strategic: and maybe there should be some cause for concern about that.

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  • 1maia

    The ‘tram racist’ got a jail sentence over christmas despite the damage that would do her small child, whilst a man who deliberately ran over a young mother, leaving her in a wheelchair for life, who had no children, got sentenced to serve after christmas ‘on compassionate grounds’. 56days isn’t my problem – although it’s extremely expensive, something cheaper like tagging is better – it’s not like he’s going to learn to care and share in prison, is it? – but my over-riding problem is the conviction that doing something on social media will get you sentenced to about ten times as harsh a sentence as if nobody films you. We’re just reinforcing the superficial morality of the age – ‘anything’s alright, as long as you don’t get caught’. Thanks for saying it.

  • Hobozombie

    The whole exchange was remarkably tame to my mind. Especially when compared to the daily output of places like 4Chan.

    And your line, ”
    It isn’t a freedom of speech issue because there is no need for anyone to express themselves and attack others in that way using those words and with that level of  aggression” reminded me of the following quote from Noam Chomskey-”If we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” 

  • Hobozombie

    Drunk and Disorderly online? Sets a wide ranging precedent.

  • John Brown

    I agree with Collymore on this, words “tweeted” “facebooked” or spread via other forms of social media are not  just the mutterings of a drunken, emotionally stunted bigot when they are read by countless others. The words themselves are offensive, but it is the incitement to racial hatred, and the resultant violence, the bloodshed, the deaths of often innocent people which originated from brainless drunken rants, that are is real issue. Stacey made a big mistake sending his obnoxious tweets, but his custodial sentence will teach him and others similarly minded, that what you say via social media can mess up other people’s lives, and if that happens, there have to be consequences.

  • northwest0161

  • Hobozombie

    “Are you a member of any minority that is regularly targeted with hate? My guess would be not.”
    What rampant assumption! Notice how you are defining my life in order to support your point of view. Dangerous game to play. And surely no matter what background I come from I am still allowed to air my views and opinions.

    “Because while people like you theorise and posture, others suffer the daily consequences.” – What a nasty accusing tone you have there. I does seem like you want me to feel guilty for actions that are not mine. I refuse.

    Now for an actual response. First you state:”I’ll bear that in mind when I’m having my head kicked in by homophobic thugs who have been incited to hate me.” – How did Liam Stacey incite violence? The comment made directly against Muamba was not even racist, just sick. The subsequent responses definitely were racist, but again did not incite violence. You are using an extreme and emotive example that has little to do with the current case to help your argument gain traction. That’s propaganda, not debate. ”Where do you think we should draw the line? For example would you be comfortable with someone having the “freedom” to call for the murder of women or black people?” – Completely comfortable. Because the people saying those things have exposed themselves as racist idiots. I think it would be scarier for people just to think these things and never say anything, the bias is still affecting their lives and others but people could be completely unaware of their bigotry.

     Funnily enough a lot of people on Twitter are calling for the murder and rape of young Liam Stacey, but that doesn’t matter because he’s a racist. This is rank hypocrisy and a court case like this one is creating a terrifying precedent.
    Look, people publicly saying racist things, whether they are drunk of not is inherently wrong. But I believe that people should not demand that the government protect them from people with stupid ideas, and that the punishment for being a racist on twitter should not be jail time, it should be everyone else on Twitter knowing that you are a scumbag racist and modifying their behaviour properly.And when I say “modify their behaviour” I mean attach the words “You scumbag racist” to the end of each interaction with said racist, before anyone interprets what I typed incorrectly. 

  • Anthony Miller

    “It starts with a word, it ends in a stabbing somewhere.”

    Utterly untrue and complete nonsense on every level.  It is just not true that every racist thought results in a violent action.  Neither is it true that every exclamation of a wish that someone would die is an intentional incitement to murder.  

    If it was many people who wish some of their relatives or fellow co workers would fall off their perch and have said it in anger would be murderers.  If people have a persistant history as racist abusers or as celebrity harassment then there should be some consequences but there is no evidence that this man was engaged in habitual behaviour.

    What this is is a good old fashioned witch hunt.  Historically witch hunts tend to happen when there is a breakdown of law and order in the real physical world that is not being addressed so those guilty of thought crimes are targeted instead by those in authority because they are easier to catch than real criminals.

    This does nothing to solve the problem of racism.  It just stokes it.  Making people feel as though they should be too scared to speak their mind.  Meanwhile the assiduous publishers of race hate go unconvicted as usual.  As PR win for the BNP.

  • Dodge

    Please…seriously the man will end spending at the most a month in prison for his drunken stupidity. Is being inebriated a reason to with the death of anyone of any color? If you want others to treat you well then do the same to them. Those of you that claim to have read the Bible will recall that Jesus said whatever you do to anyone will come back to you sevenfold. Hindu and Buddhist theology believe that all personal actions, good or bad, brings upon oneself inevitable results, they call it karma. So I believe that for Liam Stacey’s actions the punishment may well be deserved. At least it will give him time to reflect and maybe learn to think before he shoots of his mouth again.

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