Jail for being immature and dumb

Setting up a Facebook page which rates the sexual performance of women is puerile. It’s also not very smart. But should it land you in jail? According to a Victorian Magistrates Court, the answer is yes:

A central Victorian man who posted offensive personal comments about women on Facebook has been sentenced to four months in jail.

David McRory, 22, of Bendigo pleaded guilty to using a carriage service to offend and publishing objectionable material online on Facebook.

The Bendigo Advertiser has more details on McRory, who it should be noted was also convicted of other, unrelated offences.

There’s no question that the page he and another man set up (also awarded jail time, but with a suspended sentence) was in bad taste. The people named would no doubt be embarrassed and offended. But are their hurt feeling sufficient to justify jail time for immature young men?

We would argue it isn’t. As with cases involving stupid comments on Twitter in the UK ending in jail sentences, authorities are showing extreme sensitivity to online communications that more often than not would be much better off ignored.

To be clear, Facebook should be completely free (and would be well advised) to remove pages like this as they are created. Freedom of speech does not entitle you to use someone else’s property to broadcast your message, and it is not a limit on free speech for Facebook to choose what it publishes on its own site. It does become a freedom of speech issue when the state treats online communications as a criminal matter.

Police and the courts are setting themselves up for a massively increased workload if they intend to hunt down every dumb comment made online by people barely out of high school.

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