There have now been a number of sentences set for so-called âFacebook crimesâ; 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 Magistratesâ 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: âLetâs start Bangor riots,â Caernarfon magistrates heard.
His words on Facebook:
âI donât see why everyoneâs complaining about the rioters. Given the chance Iâd love to smash up a police car, wouldnât you?â
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 âincitementâ 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 âSmash d[o]wn in Northwich Townâ, intended for the receipt of the âMob Hill Massive Northwich Lootinââ. The page went on to specify a meeting time and place of 9 August, between 13:00 and 16:00 BST, âbehind macciesâ â thought to be the McDonaldâs restaurant in Northwich town centre.
His words afterwards:
âChris Johnson said: âJordan originally set up the Facebook site for a joke, which he accepts was in bad taste and inappropriate, and he is remorseful.â
(Note, Jordan Blackshaw is appealing his sentence.)
Sutcliffe-Keenan, meanwhile, created a Facebook page calling on people to âriotâ 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 â who said it was a âblatant jokeâ â was told to write a letter of apology to the shop owner
His words afterwards:
âIt was a very, very blatant joke. Iâm not sorry at all for it. Iâm sorry for the reaction it caused, but not for the action,â he said. âAlso can I make it very clear I never intended to riot.â
What to make of that?
The defences â perhaps more accurately âmitigationâ, given the consistent Guilty pleas â are all of the âjust a jokeâ, âmoment of madnessâ, âdidnât expect to be taken seriouslyâ variety. How are the Courts to know whether these were genuine or not? What would you expect anyone to say?
Itâs also worth noting that the âfour yearsâ is actually more likely to be 2 years for good behaviour, and has already â I think â 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 â far from showing an âoutbreak of totalitarian behaviour from a clearly politically motivated Police and Judiciaryâ that has been claimed â 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, Iâm 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 Moulinieâs slap on the wrist for his âjokeâ. Perhaps he wonât be such an idiot next time.
Lessons to take away?
One lesson here is blatantly obvious: donât make jokes about looting shops and burning down peopleâs 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 â the Internet as merely another communication channel in society – I welcome.