There have now been a number of sentences set for so-called “Facebook crimes”; that is, attempts using Facebook and other social media to organise rioting, or looting, or other criminal activity.
Or, as has been claimed, joking about attempts to organise rioting, or looting, or other criminal activity.
Or, attempting to organise rioting, or looting, or other criminal activity, and in some way not really meaning it to happen.
Here are some of the sentences I have met in the news, ranging from the serious to the trivial.
David Glyn Jones, 21, Four Months, Guilty Plea
David Glyn Jones received a four-month sentence for suggesting riots in Bangor on Facebook. He pled guilty plea to an offence under the Communications Act. He was sentenced in a Magistrates’ Court, which cannot pass sentences beyond 6 months in jail.
A 21-year-old man has been jailed for four months after posting an invitation to start a riot which appeared on Facebook for 20 minutes.
David Glyn Jones, of Bangor, Gwynedd, told friends: “Let’s start Bangor riots,” Caernarfon magistrates heard.
His words on Facebook:
”I don’t see why everyone’s complaining about the rioters. Given the chance I’d love to smash up a police car, wouldn’t you?”
His words afterwards:
Jones, who admitted an offence under the Communications Act, did not think it would be taken seriously, his solicitor said.
Jordan Blackshaw, 21, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, Four Years, Guilty Plea
Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan pled guilty to charges under the Sections 44 and 46 of the Serious Crime Act, which allows ‘incitement’ of a crime to be tried the same way as actually committing the crime. These charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail where riot is encouraged.
Two men from Cheshire have been jailed for four years each for using Facebook to incite disorder during riots in England last week.
Jordan Blackshaw, 21, of Vale Road, Marston and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Richmond Avenue, Warrington, were jailed at Chester Crown Court.
The Crown Prosecution Service said Blackshaw had created a Facebook event called “Smash d[o]wn in Northwich Town”, intended for the receipt of the “Mob Hill Massive Northwich Lootin’”. The page went on to specify a meeting time and place of 9 August, between 13:00 and 16:00 BST, “behind maccies” – thought to be the McDonald’s restaurant in Northwich town centre.
His words afterwards:
“Chris Johnson said: “Jordan originally set up the Facebook site for a joke, which he accepts was in bad taste and inappropriate, and he is remorseful.”
(Note, Jordan Blackshaw is appealing his sentence.)
Sutcliffe-Keenan, meanwhile, created a Facebook page calling on people to “riot” on 10 August. His message went out to 400 contacts on the site, but he took down the page the following morning, claiming the post had been a joke.
Joshua Moulinie, 19, No Charge, write a Letter of Apology
Joshua Moulinie was
Joshua Moulinie posted a message on his Facebook wall urging people to damage the Spar store in his home town of Bream, Forest of Dean.
But instead of facing the courts, Mr Moulinie – who said it was a “blatant joke” – was told to write a letter of apology to the shop owner
His words afterwards:
“It was a very, very blatant joke. I’m not sorry at all for it. I’m sorry for the reaction it caused, but not for the action,” he said. ”Also can I make it very clear I never intended to riot.”
What to make of that?
The defences – perhaps more accurately ‘mitigation’, given the consistent Guilty pleas – are all of the ’just a joke‘, ’moment of madness‘, ’didn’t expect to be taken seriously‘ variety. How are the Courts to know whether these were genuine or not? What would you expect anyone to say?
It’s also worth noting that the “four years” is actually more likely to be 2 years for good behaviour, and has already – I think – been reduced from six years for the Guilty plea. Equally the 4 month sentence was originally longer, and he will be free after around 9 weeks.
My take is that – far from showing an ’outbreak of totalitarian behaviour from a clearly politically motivated Police and Judiciary’ that has been claimed – we have the Judiciary taking the circumstances of each incident into account, and passing sentences which seem quite sensible.
Terms are reportedly about 25% heavier. Again, for a context of Civil Disorder where lives have been at risk, or have been lost, and ordinary people have been terrorised, I’m not going to quarrel with that.
I have no particular problem with a sentence of around 5 years for people aiming to organise a riot. Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan aimed was to replicate riots which, elsewhere in the and only a day before, had caused ordinary people to be burned out of their homes while they were still inside them, and other people to be killed.
The Serious Crime Act provides for attempts to organise a riot to be sentenced on the basis as actually succeeding in organising one, and 5-6 years is a not unreasonable sentence where the riots have been the most serious in the UK for 30-50 years.
Equally, I have no particular problem with Joshua Moulinie’s slap on the wrist for his ‘joke’. Perhaps he won’t be such an idiot next time.
Lessons to take away?
One lesson here is blatantly obvious: don’t make jokes about looting shops and burning down people’s houses at a time shops are being looted and homes burnt down not far away, and technology you use to make the jokes is being used to organise crimes simultaneously.
Another is that our legal system is treating speech online and on Social Media as part of the normal everyday course of conversation.
So if you try and set up a crime on Facebook, via Blackberry or on Twitter, you will be treated in the same way as if you had done it in a pub, down the market, or in your lounge.
Now that – the Internet as merely another communication channel in society – I welcome.