WHILE TWO MEN have been imprisoned for four years for inciting riots on Facebook, another man got off scot-free after writing a letter of apology, highlighting the capriciousness of the UK's judicial system.
Joshua Moulinie, 19, used Facebook to incite people to vandalise the local Spar shop during the riots last week. However, he claims it was all a joke and said he wasn't sorry about making it.
"It was a very, very blatant joke, I'm not sorry at all for it,' he said, according to the Metro. "I'm sorry for the reaction it caused but not for the action. Also, can I make it very clear I never intended to riot? The police are sound. I have no problems whatsoever with them, they didn't even charge me."
However, he was ordered to post a status update on Facebook saying that he had been arrested, obviously intended as a message to readers that such posts would not be tolerated. He was also told to write a letter of apology to the owner of the Spar store.
While Moulinie got off with little more than a slap on the wrist, two other men, 21-year-old Jordan Blackshaw and 22-year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan received sentences of four years, which many have regarded as excessive. Blackshaw is set to appeal his sentence, and Sutcliffe-Keenan will likely follow suit.
These harsh sentences come despite both defendants claiming their messages were also a joke. This might be harder to believe, since they created Facebook groups called "Smash Down Northwich Town" and "Warrington Riots", both of which gave a time and a place to begin rioting and looting. However, neither riot occured.
It seems clear that their prison sentences were intended as a message to rioters around the country. The judge said he hoped it would act as a deterrent, while Prime Minister David Cameron praised the harsh sentences, saying, "They decided in that court to send a tough sentence, send a tough message. I think it's very good that courts are able to do that." Clearly the judge was well aware of how much media attention the case would get, and that it would serve as a warning to other criminals.
While these two men are being made examples, the entire incident raises questions over how fair the UK courts are. The men will likely receive lower sentences upon appeal, but it's unlikely that they will get off altogether like Moulinie did, unless there's no space left in the prisons, which is a worry the courts have to face given the sheer volume of arrests and prosecutions since last week.
Facebook was used as a vehicle for other incitements to rioting, with two girls, aged 13 and 14, receiving referral orders for stealing designer clothes after finding out about looting on Facebook. The judge slated what he called "the Facebook generation", which he classified as "selfish, self-motivated and unable to think for yourself".
It's likely that other people will be arrested and prosecuted for their posts on Facebook, but the question is how far it will go, and will it become similar to the Twitter bomb joke, where we might all need to be extremely careful about what kinds of jokes or comments we share on social networks. µ