I am having trouble with the idea that people are being arrested and, as in the case of Matthew Woods, being jailed for making jokes. Even offensive ones. As far as I can tell the problem is that these jokes are being written down and put in the public domain via Facebook and Twitter. But is bad taste a criminal offence?
There is no way I agree with people making jokes about missing children, or making an abusive relar to someone on Twitter, or trolling in any form actually. But how can we legislate what goes beyond the boundaries of free speech and just how offensive does a comment need to be to warrant police attention? And offensive to whom?
I understand a troll being arrested for repeated abuse which could amount to harassment or stalking (though to be honest it is bloody hard to get someone in trouble for stalking in real life), but for causing offence from a one off remark or even a few remarks?
There are entire websites devoted to being as offensive as possible. Sickipedia is one (I'm not linking but if you're that interested then by all means go ahead). Some of the jokes made by certain mainstream comedians are questionable to say the least. So where is the invisible line that gets crossed into illegality? And how much prison time is the right amount for telling a bad joke?
Part of me wonders if the trial and sentencing haven't happened on a wave of hysteria surrounding the missing child case which is ongoing. Emotions are running high after all. But prison? Prison? For a few sick comments?
The whole thing makes me pretty uncomfortable. It was not direct abuse of an individual. The comments were not made to incite hatred or violence. They were misjudged, unfunny, vile jokes. The bloke has shown himself to be a pretty vile person. He has been named and shamed as such. But being vile isn't a criminal offence.