Two British men have been given four years in jail for using Facebook to unsuccessfully incite a riot – and another’s been charged over a Blackberry message calling for a water fight.
The moves have drawn criticism from civil liberties groups, who say that the response to last week’s riots has been too harsh.
Jordan Blackshaw, 20, was accused of setting up a Facebook event called ‘Smash Down in Northwich Town’ for the night of 8 August. Nobody came – except for police officers, who promptly arrested him.
Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, created a page called ‘The Warrington Riots’, which was taken down after a day and which didn’t succeed in triggering a riot.
Meanwhile, a 20-year-old man’s to appear in court in December accused of using his Blackberry to organise a water fight with his friends.
He’s charged with ‘encouraging or assisting in the commission of an indictable only offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007,’ says the local force.
Of course, there is a precedent for a regime banning water fights – Iran did it earlier this month when it discovered that men and women were squirting each other with water pistols in public.
Even so, one or two people believe that the UK may be going a little too far.
“First the pre-emptive arrest of these boys when the police should be dealing with rioters that actually committed crimes is unnecessary. Does the UK really want to be compared with Iran in shutting down members of the public peacefully organising and having fun?” says Maria Fort of Big Brother Watch.
“But, more seriously, these young men’s use of social media and BBM to spread word of the event shows police investigators may already be watching BBM, which would be a gross violation of privacy. As with text messages, the police should have to obtain a warrant to monitor your private communication, which BBM is.”
The Essex police are defending their decision.
“Re water fight comments – police believe there may be more involved in light of recent disorder,” they say darkly.
We hear that bread rolls may be involved.