Online trolling is not only an established practice in America, but in some cases rises to the level of an art form. Just ask Allahpundit during any Mitt Romney post. Here in the United States, shooting your mouth off once too often on Twitter may get you blocked, but as long as you aren’t actually threatening violence against anyone it won’t generate a visit from the authorities. Not so across the pond, though. As Charles C.W. Cooke notes at National Review this weekend, tweeting some of your displeasure about government officials or other public figures can apparently land you in the crowbar motel.
A few days ago, police in Scotland made this promise:
Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media & any offensive comments will be investigated.
— Police Scotland (@policescotland) December 30, 2014
And John Stuart Mill cried out from his grave.
I would like to report that this represents little more than an idle threat, or, perhaps, that it is merely the product of a rogue and overzealous intern. But, alas, I cannot. As The Independent’s James Bloodworth noted this week, this is in fact rather typical. “Around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online,” Bloodworth confirms, “with around 20 people a day being looked into by the forces of the law, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.” Worse, some of these people have actually been imprisoned: among them, a “woman found guilty of a public order offence for saying that David Cameron had “’blood on his hands,’” a man named “Azhar Ahmed, who was prosecuted for an online post mocking the deaths of six British soldiers killed in Afghanistan,” and a young man named Liam Stacey who tweeted something unprintable at a top-flight soccer player and was incarcerated for two months in consequence.
If you are horrified at this point, don’t feel bad. It’s more than a little alarming. The Brits have been on the path toward shutting down any and all criticism from the public for a while now. And as Cooke notes, it’s not just attacks on the government. The case of Liam Stacey linked above is particularly worrisome. Stacy was apparently well into a drinking session while watching soccer on television when one of the players, Fabrice Muamba, had a heart attack. For some reason, this prompted the inebriated Stacey to go on Twitter and unleash a torrent of racist expletives toward the player. Boorish? Yes. Worthy of ridicule, condemnation and blocking his account? Absolutely. But that wasn’t enough for the police who were alerted to the tweets, arrested Stacey, and sent him to trial where he was sentenced to 58 days in the slammer.
And that was for insulting a soccer player on social media.
The Brits don’t have Second Amendment rights either, and it’s not because none of them ever wanted guns to defend themselves. They instituted two different levels of bans in the 80s and then again in the 90s and proceeded to go around and confiscate all the guns. The fact is that while we enjoy a “special relationship” with Great Britain and work closely with them on many international efforts, our cousins across the pond are nowhere near as free as Americans. The gun bans are troubling enough, but locking people up for expressing their opinions sounds a lot more like Russia than America.