The age of the mob is coming. We are in danger of entering a period of history where the angry mob will have real political and legal power, backed by the police and the courts.
And the mob is everywhere. You’re sitting next to them on the train, they are your friends on Facebook, your followers on Twitter. Sometimes, you are even part of the mob yourself. Most of the time they appear to be fairly ordinary people, but something will make them snap. Before you know it they are baying for the head of social media user [x] on a spike. Occasionally they will actually light the torches, round up a lynch mob and set out to inflict some mob justice on their target. Just like they did with Azhar Ahmed and Matthew Woods.
The police are rightly concerned about the public order problems which can arise from social media, either by way of incitement posts, or by angry lynch mobs which seek to extract revenge from somebody who they regard as so offensive that they need to be chased down and hung from a branch of the nearest tree. The police response to this has been to legitimise the mob’s reaction by arresting their target and charging them with the criminal offence of offending the mob. The courts then duly convict these people and take into account the actions of the mob in sentencing. Sometimes they even send these modern day witches to jail. Thank heavens we no longer have trial by ducking stool.
Forgive me if you think I’m being melodramatic here, but I would have thought that the duty of the police and the courts should be to prosecute those who seek to practice vigilantism, and to protect the rights of the individual to speak without harassment from others. I would also suggest that to prosecute people just because an angry mob agitated against them, in addition to putting the power into the hands of the angry mob, is also making vigilante tactics effective. It is likely to result in an increase of such public order problems and an increase in the number of complaints made to police over social media posts.
It seems to me that the most effective thing the police can do next time somebody reports a Facebook post to the police is say “Sorry sir, that isn’t a criminal matter. There’s nothing we can do about that”.
And next time somebody rounds up a lynch mob and tries to get to somebody for what they’ve posted online, the police should immediately arrest the ringleaders. This might actually send a message that such tactics are not effective. At the moment, all the police, CPS and courts are doing is rewarding that kind of behaviour.
Just a thought. You might want to consider that in your deliberations, Mr Starmer.