Matthew Woods, a teen who joked about April Jones on Facebook, has been sentenced to 12 weeks in prison. As a follow-up to the ‘Private and professional spheres’ post, I will now explain why this is ridiculous.
OK, forget the too-obvious arguments that prison will only lead to unemployment or paying thousands of pounds of tuition fees if he has to repeat a year of college, which will lead to Matthew becoming bitter and hating people – not becoming a better person. Forget the arguments that the internet is now being policed far more strictly than real life, or that the punishment doesn’t fit the “crime”. Forget the free speech arguments. They’ve no doubt been argued to death. No, let’s pretend that it is perfectly ethical to criminalise Matthew and that 12 weeks is an appropriate and mature reaction.
Well…even after pretending all of that, we still have a problem. Because the punishments never seem to fit the crimes. There seems to be no scale of internet justice.
Matthew just joked about a dead girl. However Michael Brutsch (as Violentacrez) actually posted either links to news articles or actual photos (depending on whether you believe Gawker.com or Brutsch) of dead girls. So, by that logic, shouldn’t Brutsch be given more than 12 weeks in jail, because his “crime” was worse than Woods’? And Brutsch was much older than Matthew. However, Brutsch didn’t even get arrested because USA law differs from UK law.
Similarly, the paparazzi who took nude shots of Kate Middleton from a mile away will have his career boosted, while posters to the subReddit Creepshots were outed by other individuals, and Brutsch, whose only role in Creepshots was to moderate it by removing any child pornography (something we can all agree with), was outed by Gawker and fired. (Bear in mind that the Creepshots photos were public and clothed in contrast to the photos of Kate who was naked and in private. The photos of Kate were the ultimate Creepshots, going far beyond anything ever posted to the Creepshots subreddit.) Yet no attempt has been made by individuals online to out the paparazzi who took the photos. Again, internet justice seems to be standing upon its head.
Most recently, Gawker reported on a misogynistic blog which (in my personal opinion) was far more disturbing than Matthew Woods’ comments or Brutsch’s pornography. Thois was real hate, and it was far longer than Woods’ one-liners. However, though Gawker outed Brutsch, they did not out the person behind the blog. The only individual who did think he should be outed then changed their mind and refused to do it, claiming that not enough people wanted him outed.
Not to mention the trolls I’ve come across online – one of whom, “Snails” repeatedly made racist comments on AOL about a 6 year old boy killed in a hit and run. “Snails” commented that it was great that there was “one less Paki” and asked “did he have a big cock?”. Other users were disgusted, yet he/she was not arrested or jailed. Similarly, I experienced – as well as perpertrated- what I would now call cyberbullying – insulting classmates online during arguments. At least Matthew Woods wasn’t cyberbullying; it would be different if he’d made those comments to April’s parents.
As I concluded in the ‘professional vs private spheres’ post, I again am forced to conclude that the law and media punish the least guilty while letting the real haters and misogynists go free.
It may be worth considering whether we should have a single set of laws for the internet, instead of relying on the laws of the country in which the individual posted comments to the internet. This might be more fair, and avoid the Woods/Brutsch problem of less guilty individuals being jailed while worse individuals go free simply because of the country they happen to reside in. Such an Internet Law would obviously be a form of international law and have its own court system. For practicality, perhaps every nations’s court system could hear internet cases, just like all EU member state courts can apply EU law (be EU courts).