Man Sentenced in UK to 4 Years for Inciting Riot…on Facebook

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In a case that is sure to arose curiosity and criticism, an English court sentenced a man to 4 years in prison for inciting riots, or “organizing and orchestrating disorder,” as the English court put it, on Facebook. The conviction is one of the many following the devastating riots that rocked England last week. Approximately 3,000 people have been arrested and 1,200 people have appeared in court for riot-related offenses thus far

20-year-old Jordan Blackshaw created a Facebook event called Smash Down Northwich Town. Sutcliffe-Keenan also set up a page encouraging rioting in Warrington. Neither post appears to have resulted in an actual disturbance, however.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron alarmed free speech activists when he told Parliment that the government is examining whether it is possible to prevent suspected criminals from sending messages via social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

UK freedom of speech laws tend to be more restrictive of speech than in the US. The test followed by US courts would punish speech such as that in the UK case only if it would provoke an “imminent lawless action.” Given that the speech appeared on Facebook in the form of posts and status updates, my guess is that a court would find that there was no such threat. Thus, there would be no conviction and no prison time for the British defendant, Blackshaw.

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