Lock up the trolls
OK, let’s assume it makes sense to lock up trolls for two years.
No, stop sneering, stop and think about it.
Let’s imagine we go along with the government, and conclude that quadrupling sentences is the answer.
Where is the evidence that anyone will be deterred from offending as a result? The Malicious Communications Act has been around for ten years; there is no evidence that anyone has been deterred by it who would not already have concluded that it’s wrong to threaten to rape someone just because you think she’s a talent vacuum who trades on her father’s name and her mother and father’s status to get a leg up in the media. I don’t actually think that the decent majority who concluded it would be wrong to threaten to rape Chloe Madeley because her mother is a rape apologist (or for any other reason) started the internal debate by saying ‘Hmmm, I’m not sure, but there again, there is the Malicious Communications Act…’ Incidentally, I dare say there are those who will ask if I’m being kind or unkind describing Chloe Madeley as a talent vacuum – well I could have called her a drunk driver as well, but, truth to tell, I do think that anyone whose TV highlight was a celebrity ice skating show that also featured Vanilla Ice, Kerry Katona and ‘Comedy Dave’ deserves to be prodded and reminded of exactly how little talent they must have, or of how well they;ve concealed their hitherto unrevealed genius.
Back to the main theme though.
We are becoming a profoundly illiberal country as well as a profoundly stupid country. Not stupid in an individual sense, but stupid as in badly governed, with laws being made for the wrong reasons or no reasons, with no evidence that they will achieve the stated ends. The decision to quadruple sentences for trolls comes at the same time as the Carr report is being circulated. Read through the submissions to the Carr inquiry, and you’ll find that, whilst many, if not most people object to rape threats and online misogyny, some employers also object to the idea that individuals might be called scabs, or tax dodgers, or that non-strikers might be unpopular with their workmates.
Heaven forbid for instance that
“The protestors would arrive waving banners and in many cases with a very large (2-3 metre)inflatable rat. They would play loud music and challenge passers-by to support theunion by passing out leaflets claiming that INEOS was victimising the union convener at Grangemouth”
Similar whinges from employers suggested that strikers described a senior manager as evil, and leafletted his neighbours.
The response from employers? Back to the Carr report again;
“SSE, TfL and INEOS also stated that protests at the private addresses of employees should be banned. Pinsent Masons said that protests outside the homes of managers“…could be addressed by changes in the criminal law to introduced specific offencesincluding criminal responsibility for trade unions and their officers. Changes in the civillaw to give new rights against this form of harassment may also be considered”
Now, forgive me saying this, but is there a coincidence between the idea that trolls should be more heavily punished, and a firm of scab lawyers demanding more protection for bad employers from legitimate and lawful protests?
There’s no obvious causal link, but there’s a correlation, a link back to that illiberal tendency in our society that says that we need to be increasingly policed and controlled, that ever more powers are required to prevent us from offending.
The anger of trades unionists that has produced the leverage campaigns by some unions is an anger at a breach of an implied or explicit social contract between employers and employees. It is legitimate in my view, and so long as protest does not slip over into violence I see no reason why, say, scab workers or cynical managers should enjoy any more protection than anyone else in law. If you want to prevent such an outburst of anger, don’t be a scab employer, or the kind of tax dodging scum who shift businesses from country to country, or work from one site to another just to play one set of workers off against another. It really is that simple.
And trolls? Should we lock them up for longer? Really? I think it was Ben Goldacre who first said that you’re not going to get far asking people to calculate risk or probability in a country which has a successful national lottery. Deterrence depends upon individuals understanding the risks they run, and the risk of being caught, and on them making a rational assessment of all those factors. Just like the people who buy a ticket for the tax on stupidity twice a week, many of us are actually pretty awful at making those assessments concerning our own behaviour, even when we’re in possession of all the facts.
Centuries of deterrence based criminal law have not produced a single shred of evidence that deterrence works. Trolls will not cease to exist, just because sentences are extended. Tackling an atomized society of angry individuals who feel they don’t owe a duty to be kind to others because no-one gives a shit about them by threatening them with sentences that they will see as unfair is likely to make them more, not less angry.
And in return we will ignore the evidence, and seek to impose more offences, to tackle the use of anonymizing services that enable some trolls to operate without legal recourse, and we will tell ourselves that it’s not our approach to the problem that’s wrong.
It’s enough to make you despair.