British journalist investigated by police for ... misgendering child of trans activist

My first thought after hearing of this was, “I bet AOC and her ‘Squad’ in the House would welcome a law like this.”

My second thought was, “Maybe AOC’s right that right-wingers spend too much thinking about her.”

We should be thinking about Trump in this case, not her. You want looser libel laws to make it easier for him to sue the “fake news media”? Okay, but remember that the left will avail itself of those laws too. Call a male-to-female transgendered person a “he” on Twitter and who knows how much you might owe.

Caroline Farrow said Surrey Police wants to “conduct a taped interview under caution” because of tweets posted in October.

They were made after she appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain with Susie Green, whose daughter Jackie is transgender…

Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, Ms Green said: “Every day my daughter is misgendered online… this was a journalist who had a public platform who used that to send very deliberately malicious nasty messages.”

The relevant statute is the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it a crime punishable by up to two years in prison to send a written communication to someone that’s “indecent,” “grossly offensive,” or false and known to the sender to be false if the purpose is to “cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated.”

It’s a “hurt feelings” law, in other words, which includes but isn’t limited to defamation.

Farrow tweeted extensively about the controversy two days ago, claiming that antagonists have “[d]oxed my children, made violent and sexual threats, signed me up to porn accounts, did the same to my husband, threatened to visit here” — standard operating procedure for crossing the wrong online community in the year of our lord 2019. According to Green, though, it’s not just the “misgendering” of her child that led her to complain to the police. Here, via the Daily Mail, are the tweets Farrow allegedly sent last fall that got the police involved:

One stated: ‘What she [Susie Green] did is illegal. She mutilated him by having him castrated and rendered sterile while still a child.’

Another tweet accused Mrs Green and her charity of ‘child abuse’.

Those are the “malicious nasty messages” which Green mentioned in the first excerpt above, references to mutilation and castration and child abuse, not (just) the thoughtcrime of describing Green’s child as a “he.” Green now claims that she’ll withdraw the complaint for fear that the controversy is giving Farrow even more of a “platform,” but according to Surrey police she hadn’t done it yet as of yesterday. Can she withdraw the complaint even if she wants to? Farrow’s tweets were a matter of public record. British authorities shouldn’t need Green’s cooperation to make Farrow a free-speech martyr here.

How many Americans would support a hate-speech law targeting offenses against progress like describing transsexuals as “mutilated”? Likely answer: More than you think, and not exclusively Democrats either. I’d be curious to know how the public feels about two different kinds of “hate speech,” the sort of overtly hateful manifesto that’s unlikely to be read by many members of the groups it targets versus far more mild criticism of a “vulnerable” group whose members *are* likely to encounter it on social media. The first group asks, “Is the intent hateful?” The second group asks, “Is the effect hurtful?” There’s a segment of the population that’s less comfortable letting “The Turner Diaries” be published than with letting people call transgenders “mentally ill” on Twitter for the obvious reason that the former really is motivated by eliminationist hate for particular groups and the latter isn’t. But I suspect the opposite segment exists too that would let “The Turner Diaries” go unbanned, as a nod to free speech for literature and in the belief that the book’s readership is self-selecting, but would have a problem with allowing anti-trans language on Twitter. The touchstone in the latter case is bullying an unwitting audience: Someone who’s trans might stumble across the tweet about “mental illness” inadvertently and have their feelings hurt, as Green’s feelings were hurt. Let’s poll those two scenarios, see what we get.

It’s not an idle thought experiment either. One thing I noticed about the Malicious Communications Act is that it targets communications sent “to another person.” Judging by the screencaps at the Daily Mail, Farrow’s tweets about mutilation and child abuse weren’t sent to Green or to anyone else. She tweeted them out without addressing them to anyone in particular, as one usually does when stating an opinion there. That is, she made no effort to ensure that Green saw the tweets, hoping that her feelings were hurt. Where would someone in the second category of hate-speech prohibitions, who’s mainly worried about the psychological effect on vulnerable groups, come down on that one?

Anyway, two clips here, both depressing. Bottom line: If you live in the UK and value your free speech, start considering your own version of Brexit.

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