When stumbling across a police department’s social media page, it easy to see how out of touch law enforcement is with the rest of society. If police understood what people truly cared about, their social media pages would at least give lip service to violent crime, and they would use these platforms as propaganda tools to give the illusion that they are making people safe.
Instead, police typically decide to put their typical day-to-day activities on display, which usually amount to nothing more than harassing peaceful people like you and me for small non-violent drug offenses. This being the internet, these types of posts are usually a magnet for activists and free thinkers who troll the police and shame them for their authoritarianism.
Unfortunately for people in the UK, free speech is becoming increasingly restricted online, and the police in West Yorkshire have recently threatened to arrest those who criticize their drug busts.
After a large swarm of people began to call them “clowns” and “jerks” for arresting harmless drug users instead of fighting real crime, The West Yorkshire Police made a post stating that they deleted comments and blocked users from commenting. They also threatened to make arrests for insulting the officers, citing “The Malicious Communications Act of 1988.”
The post read:
“Unfortunately we have had to ban a number of people from using this page today. I would like to remind everyone that this is a Police page and whatever your thoughts on one of my officers seizing drugs in the community, being insulting, abusive or offensive can and will result in a prosecution under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.
We will not overlook the significant harm that illegal drugs cause to our communities. We know from experience that this can progress from using what are perceived to be recreational drugs to more addictive and harmful substances and the resulting criminality used to fund their continued use. Please use this page with respect or you will be banned and maybe even prosecuted.”
As expected, this post has only called more attention and brought more criticism to the page, drawing many activists from outside the country who cannot be prosecuted under the UK’s anti-speech laws.
The Malicious Communications Act 1988 (MCA) is a British Act of Parliament that makes it illegal in England and Wales to “send or deliver letters or other articles for the purpose of causing distress or anxiety”. It also applies to electronic communications.
Police the UK made similar threats last month citing the MCA, in regards to the public outcry about the medical kidnap of the sick child Alfie Evans. In the midst of the controversy, Merseyside Police Department threatened to arrest online posters who were insulting the doctors, judges, and police about how they handled the situation.
After the incident, Lord Chief Justice Burnett of Maldon made a renewed call to crack down on critics of the legal system for their online comments.
Burnett claimed at the time that people exercising their free speech online is “capable of undermining the rule of law because it erodes confidence in an institution which doesn’t deserve to have its confidence eroded”.
“There is no doubt that it is dispiriting and sometimes genuinely frightening for our judges. It is a factor which inevitably may play into the recruitment of judges. Put crudely, if people are thinking of applying, particularly in some jurisdictions, they may be asking themselves the question ‘why should I put myself through what might happen’?” Burnett said.
As The Free Thought Project reported, earlier this year a YouTube prankster named Mark Meechan was arrested and found guilty of a hate crime for training his dog to do a Nazi salute—as a joke to freak out his girlfriend. Meechan says that he is not racist or antisemitic, but that he likes to explore the “darker side of humor.” He was also charged and convicted under the MCA.
Last month, The Guardian reported that the UK is among the lowest ranked western countries for press freedom. Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for journalistic freedoms, said the UK ranked 40th out of 180 countries on its annual World Press Freedom Index.
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