Anti-Social Twitter Orders- An effective Punishment?

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So we have all heard of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders which are given to those engaging in, evidently, behaviour that is anti-social. Now there are calls from MPs to introduce what I am dubbing Anti-Social Twitter Orders (ASTO’s) although it will also involve Facebook and other social media.

Why? The reason is simple, since the dawn of the internet there has been the presence of trolls. People who deliberately attack others for a variety of reasons and those who use social media to incite violence, such as the 2011 London Riots. More recently, and this is the main reason that I gather has led to these calls, there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism which has been fuelled by, at least in part, Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The MP’s that have thought of this idea, The All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism, are basically extending the type of orders that are given to sex offenders, that is they will restrict the access that these trolls have to social media in order to prevent them spreading their hatred online. They stated in their report that “Hitler” and “Holocaust” were among the top 35 key words used on Twitter last summer. Very worrying indeed.

But what about those that today voiced their concerns on social media and forums that this seems to be an encroachment on our freedom of expression, as governed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights? Rubbish, I say.

These ASTO’s are not intended to clamp down on people who have an opinion about Israel or any other matter. After all, the police and CPS record data on hate crimes for five personal characteristics, that is, where the hostility relates to: (1) disability; (2) transgender identity; (3) race; (4) religion; and (5) sexual orientation. There is a huge difference between voicing an opinion, for example saying ‘What Israel is doing in Gaza is unacceptable’, and inciting violence, for example saying ‘We should do to Israel what they are doing to Gaza, go and bomb their synagogues’.

The All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism stated in their report “If it can be proven in a detailed way that someone has made a considered and determined view to exploit various online networks to harm and perpetrate hate crimes against others then the accepted principles, rules and restrictions that are relevant to sex offences must surely apply.” I agree, however the problem will come in the enforcement of such measures.

How does one enforce an ASTO and keep the perpetrators offline? For example if they use the internet in a cafe or they connect to public wifi? I cannot see how these orders, as good an idea as they are, will stop the perpetrators from sending messages that go far beyond out right to freedom of expression because there will always be a way for them to use the internet to create fake profiles. It seems to me that the time of the police and of the courts will be wasted if there are loopholes in the system whereby access to the internet isn’t entirely blocked.

In my opinion, those who feel the need to incite violence or be abusive have deep rooted issues that that need to be addressed should we want to prevent, rather than just punish, future instances. These issues could be anything from anger issues to educational issues and surely it would be more effective to sentence perpetrators of abuse in a way that addresses their cause of the outbursts. For example, mandated anger management classes. I also feel that the perpetrators would benefit from meeting those who they are directing their abuse at in a supervised and secure manner, should the victim consent to this. Seeing first hand the effects of their behaviour and indeed the opinions of their victims might just make them think twice in the future.

You cannot attack an entire section of society for the actions of extremists or, in the Inquiries case, government.

So are ASTO’s the way forward? Maybe, if loopholes are closed, but addressing the underlying issues, separately or in conjunction with an ASTO, would probably be a more effective use of the court’s time.

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