In the UK, the scapegoating of social media over the recent riots has reached such a fever pitch that a court has handed down harsher than usual sentences to two men who neither rioted nor caused a riot.
The Chester Crown Court convicted 20 year-old Jordan Blackshaw and 22 year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan for inciting disorder via Facebook posts. Although both men were described as having "previous good character", the crown court judges delivered a sentence of four years to each, according to Jerome Taylor of The Independent.
Blackshaw had used the Facebook "Events" feature to invite friends to what he called “Smash dwn in Northwich Town”. Ultimately, few of his friends even responded, and Blackshaw was the only one to actually show up for the "event" -- whereupon the police, who had presumably been made aware of the Facebook activity, immediately took Blackshaw into custody.
Sutcliffe-Keenan's acts were even more open to interpretation. The Warrington man had apparently created a page via Facebook entitled "The Warrington Riots", although his defense claimed that it was done as a drunken joke and taken down -- with apologies -- after being live for mere hours. However, the four years was given with Judge Edwards telling the man, "you caused a very real panic and you put a very considerable strain on police resources in Warrington."
One of the judges in the case essentially admitted that the sentence was based on overall current events rather than the individual merits of the case. “The courts should show that outbursts of criminal behaviour like this will and must be met with sentences longer than they would be if the offences had been committed in isolation,” stated Judge Andrew Gilbart QC.
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Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed his approval during a visit to northwest England on Wednesday.
“They decided in that court to send a tough sentence, send a tough message, and I think it’s very good that courts do that,” said Cameron.
The Manchester-area rulings add to a growing list of what critics are calling an excessive and harsh political agenda to appease an angry British populace. Last week, a 23-year-old engineering student with no criminal record received a six month prison sentence for taking $5 worth of bottled water from a store during the period of the riots.
And a 17-year-old who joked "come on rioters - get some. LOL" on Facebook was arrested and sentenced to "120 hours community service, a 12 month youth rehabilitation order and a 7pm and 6am curfew for three months" as well as getting banned from social networking sites for a year.
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