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Can Censorship of speech ever be justified?

Can censorship of speech, or the written word, ever be
justified?

I surprise myself by reluctantly answering the
question in the affirmative.  The reason
is the rise of the so-called trolls, moronic internet bullies who ‘tweet’
obscenities and offensive remarks about people in trouble through no fault of
their own.

Let’s consider the case of Liam Stacey, a 21-year old
student in Swansea, Wales, who has just been jailed for
56 days for posting a tweet about a professional footballer, Fabrice Muamba,
who recently suffered a life-threatening heart attack during a match and who,
as I write, is recovering in hospital, perhaps having suffered permanent brain
damage.  He will almost certainly never
play again. 

What Stacey wrote, as Muamba fought for his life, would
defy belief if it were not so typical of the trolling ethos.  “LOL (lots of laughs).  Fuck Muamba. He’s dead!!!”   When even Stacey’s twitter followers were
moved to object, he responded with a barrage of racist rants.

It would be easy to dismiss Stacey as some kind of
isolated freak, perhaps someone with a mental impairment of inexplicable roots,
but he is probably no such thing.  There
are, apparently, thousands like him, ‘jokers’ who latch on to personal
disasters which they have read about in the papers and who can’t wait to
inflict further pain on them with vile taunts, invariably embellished for
greater impact with mindless obscenities. 
One Doug Stanhope, a self-styled comedian, has just berated a Daily Telegraph columnist, whose views on
the right-to-life issue he disliked, with what she described as a
‘gynaecological insult’ and wished on her, in an electronic manifestation of
voodoo, ‘a fetid ovarian cyst’.      

Should we care that these mad peddlers of filth
exist? 

Well, at the very least we should all be worried that
the trolls seem to have organized themselves into a kind of international movement.  But surely our concerns need to be of sterner
stuff than mere outrage over individual offences?  We need the protection of the legal system, as
it was applied to the pathetic Mr. Stacey, and which should be applied to other
offenders.

If twitter is no more than an electronic version of
the telephone, then the same laws against harassment that govern making obscene
telephone calls or pestering people with offensive or threatening letters,
should apply to the new medium – and any new social media that, even now, some demented
computer nerd in America may be dreaming up.

I don’t suppose it will stop those hard cases that
dwell in worlds impervious to reason, any more than capital punishment ever
deterred murderers, but a warning ought to be sent to those ‘amateur’ trollers
who occasionally, for a laugh, take it into their heads to inflict their
psychological defects on the rest of us.

Meanwhile, the ‘rest of us’ can best serve the cause
of decency by staying away from the social media that threaten to turn us all
into idiots.

 

 

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