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Free speech is a right that anyone living in a fair and democratic society is entitled to. As one of the most diverse and open-minded countries in the World, Britons enjoy freedom to express their views, unbound by government imposed restrictions. Or do they? The rise of online social networking is highlighting an emerging problem that has seen a number of individuals landed in hot water simply for expressing their views on social media sites.
Earlier this month, it came to light that Paul Chambers, a 27 year old financial manager from the East Midlands had been convicted and fined £1, 000 for threatening to blow up Robin Hood air port near Doncaster. Chambers was joking around with one of his followers when he tweeted:
"Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"
Authorities treated this as a serious threat and Chambers was later arrested. This understandably caused some controversy in cyberspace as Tweeters learned that they were being watched, and perhaps weren’t as free to vent their spleens on contentious issues as they once thought.
The news sparked a backlash on Twitter, thousands of users reproduced Chamber’s original tweet, suffixed with the hashtag #iamspartacus. For the uninitiated this is a famous line from the movie ‘Spartacus’, used to deceive an opposing army leader by keeping the identity of their talismanic warrior, Spartacus, a secret. In the same vein, Twitter users united, repeating the threatening proposal in a campaign for free speech.
Clearly there is a large collective of social media users that are ferociously protective about their rights, so much so that were willing to risk similar prosecution in order to champion their cause. There will no doubt be some kind of legislative process going on behind the scenes to attempt to prevent further instances occurring in the future.
Meanwhile, others are being penalised for broadcasting their views on more banal topics such as the royal wedding. Last week, C of E Bishop, the Right Reverend Pete Broadbent made his views clear on Facebook that he thought the wedding would last ‘about seven years’ he also criticized the hype surrounding the event, using some harsh words. Broadbent was withdrawn from public ministry immediately in light of his damning comments.
All this demonstrates the reach that social networks have and the ever more pervasive roles they play in our everyday lives. What was once an innocent joke amongst friends and Facebook or Twitter can now spark public outcry, and people must carefully consider exactly what they do and do not broadcast, especially it seems, if it is about terrorism or the royal family!
Do you think social networks should be monitored? What topics, if any do think should be off limits? Discuss and debate below!