Writing for Spiked Online, Naomi Firsht gives details of Britain’s latest attack on free speech (my emphasis added).
Hate is hate’, says Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, explaining the new Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines on hate crime. Abusive or offensive messages on social media can now be classified as hate crimes, and the perpetrators subjected to harsher sentencing. A statement on the CPS website says that, ‘in recognition of the growth of hate crime perpetrated using social media’, the CPS will ‘treat online crime as seriously as offline offences, while taking into account the potential impact on the wider community as well as the victim’.
….So what is a hate crime? According to the CPS, ‘a hate crime can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property’. It is officially defined as: ‘Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a person’s disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; or religion or perceived religion; or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation, or a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.’
What constitutes ‘hostility’? Well, the CPS says it uses the ‘everyday understanding of the word’, which can include ‘ill-will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike’. This effectively means reporting a social-media post which could be deemed unfriendly on the basis of a person’s identity. Thank goodness Facebook never made a ‘dislike’ button, or we’d all be criminals.
It’s wrong to equate online posts with interactions which take place in person. Tweeting something unpleasant is not the same as shouting abuse in the street, and absolutely not on a par with physical assault. Saunders clearly doesn’t agree with this distinction. In an article for the Guardian this week, she drew parallels between the attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona and online hate. ‘We should remember that there is a less visible frontline which is easily accessible to those in the UK who hold extreme views on race, religion, sexuality, gender and even disability. I refer to the online world where an increasing proportion of hate crime is now perpetrated’, she says. This is madness. To equate horrific terrorism (13 were killed in the Las Ramblas attack) with someone tweeting an ‘extreme’ view on gender or religion is actually quite repellent.
It is repellent—more than repellent—but it also reflects the failure of the British state to get to grips with the problem posed by terrorism specifically, and Islamic extremism more generally. Far easier to go after some jackass who has tweeted something vile, or even just something that ‘offends’ someone else.
More than that, the fact that the test can be subjective (“perceived by the victim or any other person”) and that hate speech can include “unfriendliness” is clearly designed to give the enforcers of silence the widest possible latitude, something that is obviously intended to encourage anyone who thinks that he or she might even possibly fall foul of the censors to hesitate before committing anything, let alone anything that might possibly be construed as a thoughtcrime, to twitter. Chilling effect much?
And if anyone thinks that these rules will be applied fairly, I have a bridge to sell them.
As a reminder, Britain has been governed by a Conservative or Conservative-dominated government since 2010.
I have no doubt that free speech will come under far more sustained assault should today’s hard left Labour Party come into power (and the way that the Tories are running things, there’s a very good chance of that), but if and when Labour does, the Conservative party will have handed it the tools it needs.
Heckuva job, Theresa