Is Liam Stacey’s 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.Tagged in: Bolton Wanderers, Fabrice Muamba, football, Liam Stacey, racism, Social media, twitter
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