Why four years for the Facebook rioters is not a good thing
Two young men in north west England have been sentenced to four years in prison, each, for content posted on Facebook that was deemed to be inciting people to riot.
Some of you may be thinking this is a good thing.
But it’s not good. It’s far from good.
That’s the average. You don’t need to be a statistician to appreciate that means some get sentences that are far more lenient.
It has to be possible that at the same time one of those men was using Facebook to attempt to encourage people to engage in acts of criminal destruction (in one case the proposed target was a McDonald’s restaurant) somewhere in the UK a woman was being raped.
Should her attacker be arrested, convicted and sent to prison in accordance with the existing typical sentencing loads, that rapist will be released back into society before someone who invited people to a riot that never took place.
This cannot, to any reasonable person, be a good thing.
I do not advocate leniency in the sentencing of people who have sought to perpetrate civil disorder, theft and destruction. Far from it.
The events that took place around 8/9 August 2011, when the rioting and looting reached its apex, were shocking and appalling. Those that broke the law must be brought to book and suffer the consequences.
However, the government has been on the back-foot from the outset and even now is seeking to position itself as in control of things by virtue of a succession of reactionary statements driven by fear. Now, it would appear, the judiciary is caught up in that fear too.
So much for the separation of powers.
Crack down on rioters and looters by all means. That can only be a good thing. Furthermore, investigating options for coping with the way in which people will choose to use social media, mobile phones and other messaging technologies is a good thing too.
Sending someone down for a failed attempt at inciting a riot – whether they do it on Facebook, Twitter, SMS, a phone call, a fax, or even a carrier pigeon – is also a good thing.
But a situation where rapists face lighter prison sentences than a couple of idiots in Cheshire whose clumsy attempts to look big on Facebook would be more at home on a site called egg-on-your-face-book is not a good thing.
It is a bad thing.