Get arrested for what you say on Twitter

In the UK, the crackdown on political dissenters online is getting into high gear.  I don’t know how much is going on, but I see ever more reports, and I certainly don’t go looking for them.  But it seems clear that people are routinely being denounced to the police for what they say online.  The “offences” are various, and the list of possible Wrong Things To Say gets longer every day (although one thought-crime — of disapproving of Jewish people — is showing signs of dropping off the list).  This example came my way today.

On the 15th November it was reported:

Mr Smith, aged 28, said he stood by comments on his personal Twitter account that illegal immigrants should leave the country saying, “It is my right to write what I think – but I didn’t mean any  offence.”

On November 11, he posted: “Respect to all the heroes 11/11/11 now to all the illegal *****, **** off out of are country all call of duty could become a reality – kill um.

I’m not sure that calling for the immigrants to be killed is not incitement to violence, but for some reason none of the stories make that point.  For the press it’s all about being “raaaacist”.  We could pronounce it “Jewish”, with a comic German accent, if we wanted to labour the point.  It’s about opinion, it seems, rather than violence.

By the 18th, the BBC reported:

Worcester City Football Club has suspended one of its players after he posted an alleged racist remark on Twitter.  A tweet, from striker Lee Smith’s account, prompted other users to accuse him of “spreading hatred”.

On the 23rd November:

Officers from Gloucestershire police yesterday arrested Lee Smith, the 28-year-old Worcester City Football Club right winger on suspicion of a public order offence, but he was released after being  given “strong words of advice”, said officers.

Notice how none of this reporting suggests that he was in trouble for inciting violence, which I would have thought might have been an option.  Instead it was his opinion that was on trial.

In the end he was let off with a warning not to do it again.  Evidently the establishment didn’t want to prosecute him for some reason — we’re not told why.

There’s some nasty precedents being set here, even if you are leftist in your politics.  At the moment it is people on the political right who are being attacked in this way, and the silence of the political left has been deafening, since the authors of the thought-crime process are mainly on the left.

But this is very unwise politics.  You have to hate people pretty badly to want to lock them up for their opinions.  In this country we have refrained from this for centuries.  You can only get away with it, while you have a predominance of power.

But any such political imbalance of power is unlikely to persist, for times change.  Indeed they have changed suddenly in my time.  I remember when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979.  Suddenly the left-ish certainties, which had controlled all political discourse during the 70’s, vanished as if they had never been, and the market become king.  When the Blair/Cameron era vanishes, as in time it will, will a newly elected hard right party — and hard times will produce these — use “anti-hate” laws to lock up everyone on the left who objects?

You bet they will.  And no-one will murmur a word against it.

Once it becomes acceptable to lock people up for what they say, it becomes acceptable to lock people up for what they say.  It just becomes a question of power, and of who decides what is on the list.  Anyone like to imagine how some “seditious language” laws might be used?  Or some “disloyalty to this country” laws?  If such were enacted, how many members of the parliamentary Labour party would evade prosecution?  And hard times produce such attitudes.

Mind how you go.

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