The British news today has been reporting not so much on the sentencing of Two men from Cheshire to four years each for using Facebook to incite disorder during riots in England last week but on the severity and appropriateness of the sentences. Jordan Blackshaw, 21, of Vale Road, Marston and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Richmond Avenue, Warrington, were jailed at Chester Crown Court.
Although I might be a little inclined to question the validity of sentencing someone to a six month prison term for taking a bottle of water during the riots, I believe incitement to riot is a different kettle of fish. The difficulty is that when someone stands on a street corner and encourages others to engage in criminal activity, the role as a ringleader is obvious, when they are hidden behind a keyboard or other technical interface it is not. The result is however the same.
There is a tendency to think that someone behind a keyboard is less criminal than the man on the street corner. However this is for all intent’s and purposes not very different from those leaders of terrorist organisations who issue edicts and bile from anonymous headquarters, inciting their followers into terrible acts of destruction, whilst they are fairly safe from the direct consequences. I would ask is the situation of these two men very much different? The problem is many people don’t see it this way, it is to some, just two young men larking about.
But from little acorns do mighty oaks grow. This is one of those situations where society needs to set a boundary, enforced perhaps with compassion and with an eye to rehabilitation, but the seriousness of the offence needs to be marked in some way that brings the message home loud and clear.
I am concerned that, because the gateway to social networking is a private one, that the network itself is seen as a private space, when it is more truthfully akin to a public street. Behaviour in such spaces needs to be boundaries in just the same way that behaviour on a public street is. Someone inciting people to riot on a public street would be subject to a severe sentence, and so it should be in the public spaces of social networking sites.