Last week, Scottish police examined “complaints about Ebola comments tweeted by controversial TV personality Katie Hopkins”:
After news that a Scots nurse was being treated for the virus, Hopkins wrote: “Sending us Ebola bombs in the form of sweaty Glaswegians just isn’t cricket.” Another tweet said: “Glaswegian ebola patient moved to London’s Royal Free Hospital. Not so independent when it matters most are we jocksville?” Police confirmed they were looking into an unspecified number of complaints.
Massie, who is quoted in this post’s headline, is disturbed by the police reaction:
Morons post moronic comments on Twitter or Facebook or wherever and other morons report them to the police who in turn waste their time deciding whether a given tweet is grossly offensive or merely run-of-the-mill offensive.
But regardless of whether people are grossly offended by such posts or not it is plain that, in the absence of direct harassment or threats of specific harm, they’re simply expressions of opinion. Distasteful opinion, perhaps, but still only opinion. Which ought not to be enough to trigger an investigation, far less arrests and prosecutions. This is so even if – no, especially when – a reasonable person might conclude the tweets (or whatever) were racist, sectarian, homophobic or anything else. The freedom to be a moron is an important one. Ditto for bigots.
Charles C. W. Cooke discovers that the policing of thought is widespread in Britain:
I would like to report that this represents little more than an idle threat, or, perhaps, that it is merely the product of a rogue and overzealous intern. But, alas, I cannot. As The Independent’s James Bloodworth noted this week, this is in fact rather typical. “Around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online,” Bloodworth confirms, “with around 20 people a day being looked into by the forces of the law, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.” Worse, some of these people have actually been imprisoned: among them, a “woman found guilty of a public order offence for saying that David Cameron had “’blood on his hands,’” a man named “Azhar Ahmed, who was prosecuted for an online post mocking the deaths of six British soldiers killed in Afghanistan,” and a young man named Liam Stacey who tweeted something unprintable at a top-flight soccer player and was incarcerated for two months in consequence.
Elizabeth Nolan Brown puts the news in its greater context:
Of course, the British have always been more censorship-happy than Americans—why should we worry too much about their current speech-limiting antics? Because they come at a time when countries around the world—from Japan to India to Turkey—have been debating (and legislating) the handling of hate speech, and the European Union’s Council on Human Rights has been taking up the “no hate speech” mantle more vociferously. The United Nations is also pressuring countries, particularly Japan, to enact anti-hate speech laws. I’m really afraid that speech penalties of the past are the wave of the future.