A Scottish man who tweeted "the only good Brit soldier is a deed one, burn auld fella buuuuurn" after the death of the famed Capt. Tom Moore was sentenced today to 150 hours of community service. The tweet, broadcast only to a tiny group of followers, was deleted within minutes—but not before English tabloids found it and made a meal of it.
Kelly was found guilty under Section 127 of the UK's Communications Act. The law was originally intended to prosecute individuals saying offensive things on the telephone, but has since been used to police "grossly offensive" messages on social media. Hundreds of UK citizens have been found guilty under Section 127, often for insulting, abusing, and harassing public figures like athletes, journalists, and MPs.
Section 127 is set to be replaced by the UK's sweeping Online Safety Bill, though critics worry that this new legislation will enable similar prosecutions to Kelly's — with citizens found guilty of sending "harmful" messages based on vague notions of public morality.
The challenge of the day among American civil libertarians is trying to figure out why such a mildly offensive tweet was prosecuted—especially given that British Twitter is so unremittingly vulgar, strewn with death threats, racism, etc.
Sure, Britain has few real free speech protections and its public sphere is fogged with vague sanctimonies about politeness and cilivity, all farted out by the same assholes who otherwise insist they're being censored, and enforcement is an arbitrary and indifferent game of soggy biscuit played by its civics-illiterate politicians, police and press. Apart from that, though, it's a mystery!
From my earlier post:
The case is a sharp example of the Streisand Effect, where censorship only draws more attention to the problematic material at hand. But it's also an example of another phenomenon, where vanishingly obscure material—and laws that oblige police to police it—can be intentionally exploited to justify attention given to a subject. In this case, the bad tweet is now a prop in fights over Scottish independence [Twitter], free speech [Daily Mail], nationalist appropriation of Moore [The Guardian], and every conceivable subject upon which it touches.