Attention, Thought Criminals: Glasgow Police Have You In Their Sights

Greater Glasgow Police - THINK - Social Media - Police State - Free Speech

Glasgow Police’s conception of public safety is plain old fashioned tyranny

Imagine the kind of dystopian police state you would have to inhabit for it to be normal for the authorities to routinely warn citizens to be careful about what they think or say, on pain of criminal prosecution and potential incarceration.

Well, you don’t have to imagine, because Police Scotland and the Greater Glasgow Police are busy constructing their own tribute to North Korea right here in the UK.

The tweet shown above was posted on twitter by the Greater Glasgow Police – unironically – this afternoon, along with the menacing hashtag #thinkbeforeyoupost.

Apparently before offering up our thoughts to the internet, whether they be on politics, cooking or sport, we are to ask ourselves whether what we are posting is True, Hurtful, Illegal, Necessary or Kind. The clear implication is that if our speech fails the THINK test, some snarling Scottish police officer will turn up on our doorstep to drag us away, much as the London Metropolitan Police did with Matthew Doyle last weekend.

This is something of a scope increase for the police, to put it mildly. Where once they largely confined themselves to preventing and solving crime, apparently having since eliminated all actual crime in our society (…) and finding themselves at a loose end, they are now eager to swoop in and punish speech which passes Britains’ already draconian hate speech laws but which happens to be arbitrarily perceived by others as hurtful, unnecessary or unkind.

Let’s call a spade a spade: this is tyranny. When an enforcement arm of the state can post jocular messages on social media warning citizens to be on their best, blandest and most inoffensive behaviour on pain of arrest, we do not live in a free society any more. And it is time that more of us acknowledged this, so that we can get on with the task of rolling it back and re-establishing our corroded right to freedom of expression.

Alex Massie thunders:

Whatever next? The monitoring of conversations in public houses? Why not? Twitter and Facebook, after all, are merely digital, virtual, gathering places. As the wags on social media have put it today, Thur’s been a Tweet and Detective Chief Inspector Taggart is on the case.

Beneath the necessary and hopefully hurtful mockery, however, lurks an important point. One that relates to something more than police stupidity and over-reach and instead asks an important question about the value placed on speech in contemporary Britain. The answer to that, as this and a score of other dismal examples demonstrate, cannot cheer any liberal-minded citizen. Such is the temper of the times, however, in which we live. Nothing good will come of any of this but you’d need to be a heroic optimist to think it will get any better any time soon.

What a country; what a time to be alive.

All very good points. If social media is fair game for the thought police, why not the local pub, too? What restraint should there be, besides time and resources, on blanket surveillance of everyone all the time in the pre-emptive battle against speech crime?

When will people finally start waking up to the sheer illiberality and the authoritarian nature of contemporary society?

When will people finally realise that weaponised offence-taking and the Cult of Identity Politics do not create a Utopian paradise of peace and harmony, that in behaving this way we are only driving bad ideas underground to fester and grow while punishing those who dare to think differently?

When will people get that having the state act as an overbearing, always-watching surrogate parent figure, monitoring our behaviour and punishing those who do no more than hurt our feelings, is creating a weak-minded and unresilient population who are unable to handle slights and setbacks without running to an external authority figure for redress?

In a healthy society, the author of that tweet by Greater Glasgow Police would have broken the law by using their position to threaten the right of the people to freedom of expression – a liberty which would be guaranteed in a written constitution enshrining our fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But we do not live in a healthy society, the police are free to do as they please without censure and there is no written constitution guaranteeing our liberties. Instead, we have a “make it up as you go along” constitution and form of government with a strong tendency to attempt to solve the immediate problem in front of it by taking power away from the people to act in their own interests and vesting those same powers in the state.

We are approaching the point where some kind of rebellion against this censorious, bullying, tyrannical behaviour by the police must be mounted – perhaps some kind of co-ordinated mass action whereby everyone tweets something “offensive”, gets a partner to report them to the police and vice-versa, the idea being to gum up the workings of the police and criminal justice system until the whole rotten edifice collapses in upon itself.

Semi-Partisan Politics is in very rebellious mood right now.

 

Police Scotland

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No Prosecution For Matthew Doyle, But Free Speech Is Still Diminished

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No trial for Islamophobic tweeter Matthew Doyle, but the mere fact of his arrest has served to further chill freedom of thought and speech in Britain

Vindication for “mealy-mouthed” tweeter Matthew Doyle, who will not be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred with silly social media messages after the police realised that they vastly overstepped their authority by arresting a man for speechcrime without first consulting with the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Guardian reports:

Charges against a man accused of posting tweets likely to stir up racial hatred have been dropped, Scotland Yard has said.

Police charged Matthew Doyle, 46, with a public order offence on Friday amid allegations that he tweeted about confronting a Muslim woman to ask her to “explain Brussels”.

But officers admitted later the same day that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) disagreed with their decision, adding that they did not have the legal power to bring the charges in the first place.

A statement released by police in the early hours of Friday morning said Doyle had been “charged under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986; publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred”.

[..] But, late on Friday night, the Metropolitan police released a second statement saying that Doyle was “no longer charged with the offence and will not be appearing at court”.

It said: “Police may not make charging decisions on offences under Section 19 of the Public Order Act. There will be further consultation with CPS.”

So Doyle escapes on a technicality, the police (ever eager to respond to busybody public complaints about alleged thoughtcrime but much slower to respond when real crime occurs and your house is burgled) having brazenly overstepped their authority.

No doubt this is a relief for Matthew Doyle, whose initial tweet suggesting that all Muslims bear responsibility for the Brussels attacks, and subsequent inflammatory defence of that tweet, saw his life briefly put on hold and his flat ransacked by the police in their search for “evidence”.

But is this a victory for free speech?

Absolutely not. The fact that these draconian hate speech laws are on the statue book in the first place is an intolerable, long-standing affront to free speech in Britain. And the fact that the Metropolitan Police in London were able to drag a man from his home and hold him in jail when they did not have the authority to do so without suffering any kind of consequence whatsoever – there is certainly no talk of disciplining the officer(s) involved – is despicable too.

We must understand that the battle for free speech is won or lost at the margins. That often means defending the rights of people with truly heinous opinions on all manner of subjects to express themselves, while abhorring what they actually say. In this case, Matthew Doyle is hardly the world’s number one villain. He tweeted something particularly stupid about Muslims in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Brussels, but he was light years away from cheering on such attacks himself (as many others do), or urging reprisals on all Muslims for what the Brussels terrorists did.

Under no reasonable definition of the word did Doyle “incite” anything at all, except in the minds of those joyless thought police who hold such a low view of humanity that they constantly fret that the public are mindless lemmings liable to being whipped up into a violent mob if they ever encounter a slightly controversial ideas. No, Doyle’s only crime was to be ignorant, and to broadcast that ignorance on social media.

Look at Doyle’s Twitter account page now, a full five days after his arrest and release. There is nothing new. Doyle has effectively been silenced, stopped from expressing his sincerely held opinions – opinions which he is fully entitled to hold, no matter how silly or wrong they may be – after the full weight of the criminal justice system came crashing down on his head one sunny afternoon:

Matthew Doyle - Twitter Timeline - 28 March

The online disappearance of a man who was until now a fairly prolific Twitter user is quite poignant. It shows a case of public idiocy being responded to not with rebuttal, debate, correction and forgiveness, but rather with vengeful mob justice backed by the power of the state. It shows a free voice, however ignoble it may have been in this case, being frightened into silence.

Prior to his arrest, Matthew Doyle was more than happy to interact and debate with the army of online critics who mocked and argued with him. That is how free speech is supposed to work. Bad ideas are drawn out into the open, debated, dissected and discarded. Maybe Doyle would never have changed his views in response to his Twitter critics, but others observing the dialogue unfold may have done. And in any case, it added to the infinite tapestry of our social discourse.

Following his release, there are no new tweets. Any future opportunity for learning, debate or correction has been lost. And all because some moralising busybodies with nothing better to do thought that the best response to seeing something they disliked on the internet was to report it to the police. And because the police, who prefer to sit at desks scouring Twitter looking for thoughtcrime rather than getting out and tackling real crime, leapt at the opportunity to show their PC tolerance by arresting a man for his beliefs.

You don’t need to throw people in prison to create a chilly, hostile environment for free speech and free thought – although there are plenty of people languishing in British prisons simply for saying, writing, posting or singing the “wrong” things, “offensive” things.

You can suppress free speech in a society just as effectively by the threat of public shaming, harassment by the police and potential prosecution under draconian but arbitrarily applied laws. And in the case of Matthew Doyle, the message has been received loud and clear:

Think the wrong thoughts or write the wrong thing on social media, and we will come for you. We are watching you, all the time. Give offence to anyone, intentionally or not, and they have the right to make a criminal complaint about your speech. And in response, the police will come to your house in the middle of the night, bundle you into the back of a police van, take you away and leave you to fester in a jail cell for a day before grudgingly releasing you. Your arrest will be made public, and your reputation will be forever stained as the person whose ideas and opinions were so heinous that they got in trouble with the law. Good luck with the rest of your life and career.

This is Britain. In the year 2016. And this is what now happens to people who say the wrong thing or express an unpopular idea in public or on social media.

And you dare to boast that we live in a liberal, tolerant country which respects human rights and free speech?

 

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Arrested For Thoughtcrime In Britain Following The Brussels Terror Attacks

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Britain has become an authoritarian dystopia where the police prefer to waste scare resources scouring Twitter for instances of supposed thoughtcrime, rather than tackling real-world crime

Matthew Doyle of Croydon, south London, was not the first person to say something stupid in the aftermath of the Islamist terror attacks in Brussels yesterday, and he will certainly not be the last. But Doyle does hold the dubious honour of being the first person in Britain to be arrested for thinking and saying – or in this case, tweeting – the wrong thing about the Brussels attacks, the latest victim of Britain’s dystopian hate speech laws.

As with most people whose free speech most urgently needs defending, Matthew Doyle does not come across as a remotely sympathetic character.

The Telegraph explains:

A man who tweeted about stopping a Muslim woman in the street yesterday, challenging her to “explain Brussels”, and lambasted on Twitter for his comments, has responded to the criticism today, insisting he is not some ‘far right merchant’.

Matthew Doyle, partner at a south London-based talent & PR agency, posted a tweet on Wednesday morning saying: “I confronted a Muslim woman in Croydon yesterday. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said ‘nothing to do with me’. A mealy mouthed reply.”

He was later arrested.

His tweet referred to yesterday’s bomb attacks on the Belgian capital’s main airport and Metro system that left at least 34 people dead and 198 injured. His comment went viral, being retweeted hundreds of times before he eventually deleted it.

Mr Doyle told the Telegraph he had no idea his tweet would be the “hand grenade” it has proven to be – and that Twitter’s 140 character limit made the encounter sound vastly different to how he thought it went.

Now there is a good case to be made that Matthew Doyle is something of an idiot – in a follow up tweet, he later exclaimed “The outrage I felt was real. I cannot understand why I decided to ask the nearest Muslim I ran into”, which certainly suggests that perhaps we are not dealing with a world class mind here.

Matthew Doyle tweet

And his subsequent tweets veered firmly toward the knuckle-dragging bigot end of the spectrum, when he retorted “Who cares if I insulted some towelhead??”

Matthew Doyle tweet - 2

But let’s be clear – even if we apply the most unforgiving interpretation of Matthew Doyle’s tweet, and his subsequent account of the conversation, it should not be enough to land a citizen of a supposedly free democracy in trouble with the law.

Even if Doyle literally sought out the first Muslim-looking person he could see on the high street, approached them unbidden and asked them to account for the terrorist actions in Brussels yesterday, no country calling itself free should drag that man through the criminal justice system.

It may be incredibly ignorant and offensive to suggest that all Muslims share responsibility for the terrorist attacks in Brussels this week. It may be astonishingly stupid. But stupidity and lack of manners should not be enough to earn someone a knock on the door from the police.

In this case, the initial response of the Twitterverse was (for once) exactly what should happen – society’s self-righting mechanism kicking in against the actions of a conspicuous idiot. Doyle said something irretrievably stupid which was then widely retweeted, and he found himself on the end of thorough, fully deserved mockery from complete strangers online. Many of the subsequent parody tweets effectively (and wittily) exposed the total lack of logic behind Doyle’s sentiments and actions.

So why is confrontation, rebuttal and mockery not enough in twenty first century Britain? Why can we not simply go to bed content that a self-declared idiot has had his idiocy widely exposed, refuted and mocked, without wanting to twist the knife further? Why is it now also necessary to compound his punishment by heaping an arrest, a trial and a possible criminal conviction on top of the self-inflicted public shaming?

As Alex Massie recently lamented when looking at the public’s response to Donald Trump’s comments about Britain, cases like these only prove his how snarlingly authoritarian and illiberal a place modern Britain can be once the sunny, progressive façade is peeled back:

It is always depressing to discover that there are vastly fewer liberals in this country than you might wish there to be. But that discovery should no longer surprise us.

This is the true attack on British and European values, and it comes from within. I am far less worried about the slim possibility that I will find myself standing next to a suicide bomber on my morning commute, and far more concerned that every single day I am apparently rubbing shoulders with people who smile and appear friendly at first glance, but who would not hesitate to bring the full weight of the criminal justice system crashing down upon my head if I happen to one day say the wrong thing (defined by British law as anything which gives them offence).

As a political blogger with sometimes forceful and controversial views, I am less worried that my writings may earn me a punch in the face from a stranger (I couldn’t be less famous, and my reflexes are quick – though I am probably playing with fire when I criticise our national religion, the NHS) and far more worried that someone will read something that I write, take massively overinflated exception to it, and – with a few clicks of a mouse or a quick telephone call – report me to the police, who would then be obliged to investigate me under Britain’s oppressive hate speech laws.

In the age of Islamo-fascist terror, my liberty and wellbeing is far more under threat from the Public Order Act 1986, the Communications Act 2003 and the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 than it is from the terrorist’s bomb or the bullet. Not because I ever incite racial or religious hatred – indeed, I abhor those who do so – but because under the same laws that put Matthew Doyle in a jail cell, my “guilt” would depend entirely on the perception of the supposed “victim”. Anybody at any time can read anything that I write, claim to be alarmed and distressed by the ideas that I express, and have me carted off to prison.

They can do this to idiots like Matthew Doyle. They can do it to political bloggers like me. And they can do it to you. Sitting at your computer right now, you can get yourself arrested and cautioned, convicted and even sent to prison just by typing fewer than 140 characters on your keyboard. In Britain. In the year 2016.

In case the government actually cares, this is how the terrorists really win. They’ll never make Britain part of a radical Islamic Caliphate, but they can certainly help to ensure that we become such a snarlingly authoritarian, freedom-hating society that our country is changed irrevocably for the worse.

And as the freedoms and liberties which distinguish Britain from more benighted parts of the world – including primitive quasi-medieval regimes like the Islamic State – are shot to pieces, it is our own hand on the trigger. No one else’s. We do this to ourselves.

 

Postscript: What remains unclear at this time is whether Matthew Doyle was arrested for the content of his original tweet, his subsequent tweets (some of which were actually far more offensive) or the real-world act that his initial tweet described.

It may seem an arcane detail, but it will be interesting to discover whether the woman accosted by Doyle made the complaint, or whether it was a foot soldier in Britain’s growing army of professional online offence-seekers who took offence on her behalf. I would bet a very large sum of money that it is the latter, and that while the “victim” herself probably shrugged off the incident, Doyle’s prosecution is being urged most strongly by other people who are completely unconnected with the incident and who were not adversely affected in the slightest by his tweet.

 

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