You can be jailed for offending: that’s right, it’s illegal to be controversial

Oh, you didn’t know that? Well it sure is. What does that mean for Intentious? What does that mean for comedians? What does that mean for Andrew Bolt?

What does that mean for opinion and free speech? God only knows.

Have a look at the below case, and before you go all “he deserved it” on my ass, keep reading.

The first Queenslander charged over Facebook vandalism for plastering child pornography over sites set up to pay tribute to two slain school children has been jailed for three years.

The Brisbane District Court was told Bradley Paul Hampson, 29, posted offensive messages and photographs on Facebook “RIP tribute” pages for a 12-year-old boy stabbed at a Brisbane school and a nine-year-old Bundaberg girl abducted and murdered in February last year.

Hampson, of Tarragindi, on Brisbane’s southside, on Friday pleaded guilty to two counts using a carriage service, the internet, to cause offence between February 14 and June 4 last year.

Prosecutor’s said Hampson “posted” photographs of one victim with a penis drawn near their mouth and highly offensive messages, including “Woot I’m Dead”, “Had It Coming” and others too offensive to publish.

Judge Kerry O’Brien jailed Hamspon for three years, but ordered he be released after serving 12-months.

Judge O’Brien ordered Hampson be placed on a two-year probation order upon his release from jail.

Source: The Courier-Mail (25-3-2011) Tony Keim

Look, so sure, this example I’ve given you above is extremely malicious. Granted that this arsehole  deserves some form of harsh treatment, but technically, what is the illegal act stated here? No, not possession of child pornography. No, it was not hacking into a private website (it was a public page). The crime was offending people. Making mouths dangle open in horrific distaste. That’s a crime today apparently. I find that extremely offensive. It makes my mouth hang open in horrific distaste. Can I please jail the fucking government now?

Back in the old days when you violated a public website’s terms of service you were banned and kicked off the website, not thrown in jail.

This isn’t just an isolated case for Nanny State Australia, either. As Gizmodo reported back in April,

One of the Internet‘s basic tenets—the right to be as much of a myopic, infantile asshat as humanly possible—is currently under attack in Arizona. A sweeping update to the state’s telecommunications harrasment bill could make naughty, angry words a Class 1 misdemeanor. Or worse.

It’s a dangerous precedent, yet another bill written and supported by legislators who fundamentally don’t understand the nature of the internet. And I’m not just being a, well, you know.

Arizona House Bill 2549 passed both legislative houses last Thursday and is now awaiting approval from Arizona’s governor Brewer. The statute states that:

“It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use a ANY ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICE and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.”

Source: Trolling Could Get You 25 Years In Jail | Gizmodo

Twenty five fucking years? That’s err, overkill, surely, for some potty mouth threats. It’s important to understand that this isn’t 25 years in jail for actually carrying out an actual violent behavior. This is for merely working up a person by typing out something intentionally upsetting. Being upset now makes you not only entitled to sue a person for the damage to your precious psyche, but the state will actually step in and label you a criminal, maybe even a felon!

“It is unlawful for any person, with intent to… annoy or offend”

Well there you have it. Can I even say “GET FUCKED ON BEHALF OF THE INTERNET” without being called a criminal now? Or is it also now a crime to type in ALLCAPS?

Another example:

A British university student has been jailed for 56 days for inciting racial hatred after posting offensive comments on Twitter about the collapse of Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba.

Magistrates in south Wales sent 21-year-old biology undergraduate Liam Stacey to prison after he admitted the charge at a previous hearing last week.

Stacey broke down in tears as he was taken away in handcuffs.

The student was reported to police and arrested after posting a number of tweets mocking the player…

Stacey was taken to task by other users after he used offensive language to say that the player had died, prompting him to respond with a tirade of personal abuse.

Source: ABC News | Student Jailed Over Racist Tweets

56 days… you’ve got to be joking!

As the creator of Intentious, I will tell you now, I abhor the sick behavior the likes of the people above and trolls who actually take it way, way too far, who push teenagers to suicide and all that kind of despicable online behavior. However, in both cases above I believe that the unfortunate circumstances of the subject should be totally irrelevant to the actual “offensive” words. Yet it is not. They are not sentencing these people based soley on the language they used, they’re judging them based on the timing of their crime, ie: in both cases occurring after some bad thing which had befallen the subject, which, while insensitive and vile, still seems completely illogical to me from a legal standpoint.

So I will vehemently guard my right – and your right – to free speech, regardless of who you may offend with your views or posts or comments. What happens to the public who reads some post they think is offensive? They get upset. That’s about it. They just get upset. Upsetting someone is illegal.

If these anti-offense laws are not out to eventually have in their targets people like bloggers, opinion writers, commenters and so on, why so vague, generalist and all-sweeping with the statute wording?

If these laws are set up only to deter evil, sadistic sickos, why can’t they make it any more specific to the kinds of behavior that is condemned? At the very least, maybe it should say “being proven to reasonable doubt that you are a malicious sadist” is illegal. The way the law is now, you could be taken to court for saying, for example, that women who dress like sluts are arguably irresponsible for their own safety. Someone offended by that point of view can just say “It’s illegal to offend. In fact, it’s illegal to even annoy!” and the judge could say “well I’ll be damned, they’re right. Away with you!” slam down the gavel, and slap you with a class one misdemeanour or a huge, bankrupting fine.

Now, is that fair? Or is this the governments just having a big ol’ troll at our expense?

This is not about protecting the innocent, this is about control. I’ll tell you exactly why stupidly generalised laws like these are popping into legislation all around the world and people being made very public examples of:

It’s all part of a big, elaborate attack on mainly the Internet, that tool that scares politicians, freaks out private companies and makes people apprehensive to market anything lest something negative be said in opposition by some anonymous person completely entitled to their opinion. It’s no secret that governments and businesses alike, want to end the days where individuals can have voices. These laws are very real progress to make it legal to persecute, silence and prosecute anyone who uses the last bastion of open media to say anything out of line. Just you wait, mark my words that next you will be hearing about civil lawsuits on individuals who post negative opinions about a brand or celebrity on a Facebook page.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Intentious itself, which exists to share news that stirs the pot, is only legal for another few years. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Click below to watch the ingenious Steve Hughes (who at this rate, is probably a felon in several states) say it better than I ever can:

Intentious | Steve Hughes Political Correctness, Being Offended

Intentious | Steve Hughes Political Correctness, Being Offended

I guess the only positive that could come out of this is that Fred Phelps could be in jail soon.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Crime, Politics, Law

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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31 Comments on “You can be jailed for offending: that’s right, it’s illegal to be controversial”

  1. September 10, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is the fact that no wants to admit that some peoples rights are more important than others. This is pretty scary subject material…

  2. James Hill
    September 10, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    I cannot stress enough how important the notion of free speech is to a western democracy. The right to question and criticize is the foundation upon which all of our other rights are built. And we are seeing it eroded for the sake of protecting the feelings of an increasingly narcissitic and thin skinned populace. It’s crazy that we live in a world where a racist comment earns more jail time than a racially motivated attack. This argument that we need to eradicate and control speech to prevent “offensive” content is a total red herring. The same way right wing governments stripped us of our right to privacy to prevent terrorism, the left will strip us of our right to think to prevent offense.

  3. Nonymouse
    September 10, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    I was sickened today to hear on the radio that some sporting celebrity had his feelings hurt on Twitter by an anonymous Tweeter so he decided to tweet the Prime Minister to change the law to make people legally accountable for saying anonymous offensive things online. FFS, what a moron. The fact that it then made the national news, is what’s REALLY crazy.

  4. Amfortas
    September 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    I am fookin’ dis custard.

  5. FLS
    September 10, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Off topic but I just wanted to add that this is a pleasure to read. It feels engaging, informal and is brashly opinionated which is refreshing. More of this and less of the ‘first year uni essay’ rubbish.

  6. September 10, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Andrew – I read your biography and did not read among the string of accreditations that you were a parent – I think if you were you wouldn’t draw out of such a disgusting act the issue of freedom of speech – like that is the main priority or issue that should take precedence. Parents naturally want to create a safe world for their children and for everyone in fact and for a person to make light of a tribute to slain schoolchildren – says something is terrible sick or callous in an individual who can do this…and not far off it in my opinion is the fact that someone can write a plea from this example for freedom of speech – missing the point totally!

    • Jimbo
      September 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

      @Abram… I am a parent (not that being a parent is actually relevant at all in this situation) and to be fair to Andrew, your children should not be on Facebook or any other social media for that matter until they are old enough and mature enough to be able to deal with scumbags such as the above mentioned.

      What Andrew is implying is correct. If they can essentially charge someone for offending someone else online they are completely destroying the very freedom of speech the internet stands for in the first place! Where do the thought police stop? Are there any limits?

      Site administrators and networks have mechanism to block and ban scumbags from trolling already. To charge someone for merely saying something is absurd! As the wise sage Steve Hughes says “Who cares if you are offended! Nothing actually happens!”

      • September 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

        Jimbo – you seem to think saying whatever you like, posting offensive images on a page set up as a tribute to slain schoolchildren is not an act – again, missing the point! It sure is an ACT – if you lost your child and I came to the funeral and started laughing and making light of your situation would you think that was OK if I argued it’s just in the name of freedom of speech ?

        • markaid
          September 10, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

          Heaven forbid – I would never wish any harm came to anyone’s child of course but what I’m saying is that ‘merely’ saying something (as you put it) is not simply that – it is also DOING something in a particular context!!!

        • Anonymous
          September 11, 2012 at 9:02 am #

          you seem to think saying whatever you like, posting offensive images on a page set up as a tribute to slain schoolchildren is not an act – again, missing the point! It sure is an ACT – if you lost your child and I came to the funeral and started laughing and making light of your situation would you think that was OK if I argued it’s just in the name of freedom of speech ?

          Abram What if someone decided that setting up a page over a person already dead is “offensive”? Someone can decide that somehow you are offensive and expunge you
          The problem with “offense” is that ANY act somehow it will offend someone, anyone. It prevents free and frank discussion. This link is a really good primer on the subject.

          The right to Freedom of Speech is actually something you give to your enemies to allow them to speak their mind, so that you may refute them. To do otherwise is to deaden Democracy.

          was OK if I argued it’s just in the name of freedom of speech ?

          Firstly, do you think that someone would dare turn up face-to-face at a funeral in a graveyard and try this in front of family and relatives? Do you think the family would be able to restrain themselves from turning his face (wrongly) into pulp? That is why trolls are emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet.

          Nevertheless, to indulge your unlikely hypothetical example.

          It doesn’t matter if I think it’s okay or not for an asshat to be at a funeral. Firstly, I’d take photographs or video of him at the funeral making an ass of himself. Then I’d tell all my friends that some insensitive boor turned up at a funeral and make fun of the deceased. If I could identify the boor I’d use my freedom of speech to write in a newspaper, to write to his employer and to write to his family.

          The problem with your assertion is this: what if someone thinks “saying anything about the deceased’s finances at a funeral” is offensive is worthy of censorship? Restricting speech before it happens and creating “thought crimes” is subject to the will and whims of the legislators of the day. Think cult of personality, propaganda, dictators and communist media control to conceal the depravity of the powerful from those who only have their word.

          Allowing trolling is the small price we pay for frankly sharing ideas in democracy.

          • James Hill
            September 11, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

            To take his example a little bit further: if you handed out fliers for your grandma’s funeral at the local homeless shelter, jail and psych wards, would you be surprised if some crazy people showed up? Pubic faceook events and tribute pages are open invites. If you want to control the responses you get, control the people that can see it.

    • James Hill
      September 11, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Won’t somebody please think of the children

  7. September 10, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    Sorry to be a stickler for detail, but you may have missed this from Hampson’s case (SMH online), ‘He pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court on Friday to one count each of distributing child exploitation material and possessing child exploitation material…’ as well as ‘…two counts of using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence.’ So his sentence was not purely based on the ‘offence’ caused but also on harassment and distribution and possession of what was essentially child pornography.

    I would hope there are stronger examples out there to argue about a crackdown on internet free speech than sexual perverts and racists who make fun of dead people.

    • James Hill
      September 11, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      You are aware that child porn doesn’t need to portray actual children in any way shape or form? If you draw a stick figure with a giant erect penis and label it “Jimmy, 8 years old” you’ve just manufactured and distributed child porn. That’s how they’ve got this kid: he drew some cocks on a picture of a child. That’s certainly distasteful and maybe it should be illegal, but i’ll bet it’s not what the average person thinks when they hear someone was arrested for child porn

  8. September 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    thanks stublogs! there are better examples for arguing for free speech – in fact, the example here is not one at all – thankyou for pointing out it was an act of distribution of child exploitation material not free speech. What other commentators seem to be missing here is the fact they are using a despicable act to push a high ideal which I think, frankly is dangerous. It is dangerous to confuse despicable acts with freedom of speech.

    • September 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      The problem is that your definition of a “despicable act” is relative; do we rely on your definition, or the definition of your most hated enemies? One could say that the union protests in Melbourne this week were vexatious, while the unionists would say it is principled. Ultimately one cannot prevent the thought, all one can do is condemn it.

      No-one said that free speech didn’t have to have consequences. What we are saying is that trying to restrict free speech in the first place is a ridiculous notion.

      PS: is your definition of “producing child pornography” drawing a penis with a crude marker on a child’s head?

  9. markaid
    September 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    “The problem is that your definition of a despicable act is relative” – The problem is you can’t or refuse to recognize a despicable act! Thank God the courts did!

    • September 13, 2012 at 7:24 am #

      In Pakistan it is illegal to deface the Koran… that is a death sentence. Also, if you are raped, you have to prove you did not commit adultery. Many countries still have “sedition” on the statutes, because the king may be offended that you insulted him.

      That is relativism. Your morality is not the same as everyone elses. I am hesitant to base a law on the sensitivities of a man who cannot appreciate the inherent difficulty of policing something based on whether or not someone else will be offended.

      It is stiffling to free speech and the health of a democratic society.

      My personal approach would be to ignore and delete the posts of trolls and ban them- they’re still allowed to post, but they can post elsewhere and the law need not be involved. Free speech does not mean, “you are allowed to trespass and speak”, it means you should be allowed to say what you like without it being considered a “thought crime.” No opinion should be ruled illegal. The consequence instead is it shows how foolish a troll can be.

      • Abram
        September 13, 2012 at 10:35 am #

        You seem to believe you are better qualified to judge this case than the Brisbane court and are wandering away from this SPECIFIC case or confusing it with prevention of freedom of speech – you still seem to be missing the point here – or committing an outrageous faux pas which you don’t appear to be aware of at all.

        • Jimbo
          September 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

          It is you who keeps focussing on a specific case Abram. Everyone else can see past this to the bigger picture of the curtailing of free speech on the Internet!

          We all acknowledge that the bloke is a scumbag and his actions were deplorable. Worthy of a prison sentence though? I think not… A government watch list…Yes!

        • September 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

          believe you are better qualified to judge this case

          That’s the point. I am not qualified to judge this case and neither are you and neither is a court of law – all of which presume to contain “people who know better than everyone else”

          I remain unconvinced that there is anyone capable of deciding “which opinion is lawful and which one is not” even a retired judge presiding over a media enquiry

          the court is NOT qualified to judge either. They should never rule on “opinion” that “causes offence”. What you are asking for amounts to prevention of freedom of speech, the stiffling of which is more sinister than the ramblings of any troll. Once that speech is “outlawed” it means other speech gets eroded- especially the ability to speak out to claim ones other rights

          delete the comments of trolls. Ban the from websites as pests. BUT they shouldn’t be taken to court to be subject to lawfare. Because Courts tend to create a precedent that is independent of the legislature.

          • Abram
            September 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

            I give up – some of you guys just don’t get how the judicial system works – as if what you do on the internet is somehow only free speech when sometimes it’s more like despicable graffitti – especially in the case at hand. You seem to think the internet should be isolated and above the laws and precedents set by courts and website owners should be the ones to deal with trolls and do it in one way only – delete the troll comments. What? After the damage or defamation has been done? The judicial system has taken years to develop and continues to develop as the internet makes it’s presence felt. It continues to develop based on principles like – a fair trial and innocence before guilt etc… you seem to think your ideas are somehow new and have never been debated by lawmakers – like free speech never existed before the internet! May I suggest you look deeper into precendents and specific judicial cases – why precendents are set or appealed against – eventually you might discern a pattern of how lawmakers come to their conclusions and what makes a crime a crime rather than putting everything into the mantra of freedom of speech.

            • Jimbo
              September 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

              “After the damage or defamation has been done?”

              What damage? What defamation? The criminal justice system is in place to deal with real crimes not hurt feelings or sensibilities! I think it may be you that has a poor understanding of the judicial system champ. The ramblings of a troll can not be considered defamation as no reasonable person takes them seriously.

              • Abram
                September 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

                Wow – so you are now setting yourself up as more reasonable than lawmakers – years of study and experience don’t amount to much when you’ve got experts like you Jimbo! Why don’t you set up your own criminal justice system where you can be the sole dictator of what is and is not a crime on the internet! That’s a good idea heh? You can decide what to take seriously and what not to and everything will be hunky dory and the lawmakers can go and get f’d – that’s a good democratic system? LOL

              • markaid
                September 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

                I think it may be you that has a poor understanding of the judicial system – that’s righ! Well done, champ! Yes that’s why courts decide not me!!!

              • September 14, 2012 at 12:46 am #

                despicable graffitti

                Note carefully that freedom of speech is not freedom to tresspass. If I bought a property and covered it in graffitti proclaiming a particular message, no one should be able to stop it on my property.

                What? After the damage or defamation has been done?

                What if one political party decides to declare another political party’s message is “offensive”, therefore it should never be uttered? Then you have situations where the people in power decide “it is unlawful to declare the Earth is round- the Earth is flat, to say otherwise is heresy.” That is why parliamentary privilege exists in the first place, to prevent anyone from silencing a politician who is to speak his mind. Note also the binding they have to speak the truth (i.e. not allowed to mislead parliament). It is on their freedom to speak that freedom of speech exists.

                Rather than “outlawing” speech, the solution actually is [i]more and better speech[/i], especially speech that denounces stupid ideas and lambasts the people who present them. Because, otherwise, it blocks those who wield power from accountability.

                you seem to think your ideas are somehow new and have never been debated by lawmakers – like free speech never existed before the internet!

                The lawmakers of the United States thought it so important to the health of their democracy that they inshrined it in their constitution. In fact, freedom of speech and expression is the source of empowerment that is sweeping the middle east at this time. That is why it terrifies tyrants- it exposes their corruption and holds them to account. That is why enduring a few trolls is worth using freedom of speech to claim every other right you have under a democratic system.

                eventually you might discern a pattern of how lawmakers come to their conclusions and what makes a crime a crime

                Note that crimes punish acts after the fact, but there is no concept of “pre-crime” i.e. you are arrested because you might commit a crime. That is why it is important to allow speech to happen so that a consequence can be decided- if it is outlawed before it begins, it shields the tyrants from account.

                you are now setting yourself up as more reasonable than lawmakers … years of study and experience don’t amount to much when you’ve got experts like you

                I know that lawmakers are unreasonable- they are human. Or else the concept of “manifestly inadequete sentences” wouldn’t exist and no appeal would be necessary. The lawyers want to sink their teeth into a more litigious society- they then have more work for which they can charge by the six minutes (there’s a reason that a court is called a “circuit!”). That is one reason the principle of “freedom of speech” is so vigourously defended, even by lawmakers- can you imagine a precedent set by a judge that says you are not allowed to insult them? Then how would you ever criticise them if they made a mistake? Because, despite their years of experience, they make mistakes and innocent people go to jail, and sentences can be overturned by higher courts.

                The judiciary is human. I don’t want either them – or the politicians with agendas! – deciding what is lawful to say, and what is not.

                Hence, your faith in the establishment is unfounded. Even the lowest pauper should be able to point out when a judge is corrupt.

  10. Jimbo
    September 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    “Wow – so you are now setting yourself up as more reasonable than lawmakers”

    No, but I think it is very important to question unreasonable common law rather than just accept it on face value. Judges are human after all!

    • Amfortas
      September 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

      Hold on a tickety-boo, Jimbo. These lawmakers you speak of are elected MPs. ie. ordinary Whiynes and Chy-Anns off the street that were selcted by other ‘party faithful’ of equal non-qualification. Of course anyone is quite able to claim equality or better than them to ‘make law’.

  11. Abram
    September 14, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    ‘No but I think it is very important to question unreasonable common law’ – how about questioning yourself – maybe that would be a good one to try too? LOL What do you think lawmakers never question? This is getting so ridiculous but thanks for the nutty discussion guys!

    • September 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

      LOL What do you think lawmakers never question?

      For one thing, Lawyers don’t question required membership to the Bar or having to take a Bar exam… they are a union that protects their own. That is already a demonstration of their humanity that proves they have agendas.

      Hence, by having any form of agenda, they have no right to pretend to be “unbiased” in determining what speech is “permissible” and “not permissible.” Already we are seeing a lurch to the left side of politics in attempting to curtail free speech in Australia… what Bob Brown calls the “hate media.”

      If politicians had their way, the media would have no means of criticising them.

      What does this mean for trolls? If we limit the right to speech of trolls, scope creep will allow lawyers and judges to rule that certain political speech is “not permissible.” Already we saw this in the Andrew Bolt case, and in his own way he was considered a “troll”. I cannot even repeat why the judgement is wrong because of the chilling of free Speech in Australia. This means that those who sought the injunction are now immune to scrutiny based on “race” and “offence”.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Oooh I’m offended! New laws against Free Speech | Intentious - November 22, 2012

    […] Controversial writers and denizens in Australia note- I’m going to post some things up on Intentious… and you can’t say anything because I might get (dum dum dum) offended! […]

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