Twitter user, and free-speech activist, Olly Cromwell, has been found guilty under Section 127 of the Telecommunications Act 2003 of making a grossly offensive and menacing comment on Twitter.
Writing about the situation on Twitter, Cromwell explains: 'You have EVERY right to be offended. By the same token I have EVERY right to offend. Without either of those there is no free speech. Simple'
Whether it truly is that simple depends upon your point of view. The informality of Twitter, FaceBook and other blogging sites, combined with the sheer volume of material that gets published on a daily basis, make it easy to forget that these are publishing platforms.
In the great scramble to draft legislature for a medium which is neither wholly a broadcast (and thus subject to slander laws), and neither wholly a print medium (subject to libel legislation), Cromwell's actions are nevertheless liable to prosecution.
The fact that most of the time, those on the receiving end of internet name-calling have the composure to simply ignore the words used, is the aspect of the case that is interesting. The Bexleyheath councillor who pressed the charges, possibly felt that on this occasion, s/he was not willing to be subjected to verbal abuse, nomatter the medium used to communicate it.
UK law is perfectly clear on the matter, even if opinion regarding internet usage isn't:
(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or
(b)causes any such message or matter to be so sent.
Scapegoating, example-making, due process, just desserts. Somewhere amongst those phrases is one that fits. Which one depends entirely upon you, your opinions, your belief in the rule of law, or in the digital revolution, or on your sense of humour.
Cromwell faces a 45-day custodial sentence.
Be careful what you say.
View Olly Cromwell's Twitter timeline here