A student who tweeted that people wearing Help for Heroes T-shirts “deserved to be beheaded” in the wake of the fatal attack on Lee Rigby in Woolwich, has narrowly avoided a jail term.
The 21-year old English and politics student from Harrow had complained to Police about hundreds of threatening messages she had received in response to her tweet, made in the immediate aftermath of the attack on 22 May 2013. The replies included threats to rape and kill her. She quickly closed down her Facebook and Twitter accounts.
She had already admitted to sending a malicious electronic message at an earlier hearing and claimed in court that the tweet was sent as a joke about the design of the T-shirts. It was accepted by magistrates that she was unaware that it was a soldier who had been killed at the time of sending the message.
In sentencing the student to 250 hours of unpaid work, Nigel Orton, Chairman of the bench commented that the tweet, “had a huge impact and clearly caused offence and distress.” He added, “Your act was naive and foolish and without regard to the general public at a time of heightened sensitivity.” It was accepted by the magistrates sitting at the Hendon court that she “didn’t intend to cause harm” and “felt it was a joke”.
“Naive and foolish”
This is another example of young people acting quickly, perhaps without due thought and consideration and then coming to regret sharing too much. Earlier last month, a trainee accountant who tweeted about hitting a ‘#bloodycyclist‘ with her car was not only investigated by the Police but also suspended from her job. However, not all those who make foolish comments are susceptible to criminal proceedings. The teenage Paris Brown, who resigned her Youth Police Commissioner role in Kent, was subsequently investigated for tweets she had posted when she was 15, some two years earlier, but no further action was taken.
A recent survey suggested that two-thirds of young people are not concerned that their use of social media could harm their future career prospects and are not deterred from using it. Perhaps, with stories such as this making the mainstream news, the threat of criminal action may be the deterrent that is required and will encourage all users of social media to think twice before tweeting controversial comments.
For additional commentary on the criminal aspects of this case, visit the UK Criminal Law Blog.
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