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back to article Wanna really insult someone? Log off and yell it in the street - gov

It will be legally safe to insult someone on the street - but not online - according to Home Secretary Theresa May. Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 was amended by the House of Lords last year to remove the ban on "insulting" language. May announced this week that the coalition government will allow the change to stand. …

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Anonymous Coward

Thank God

We have The Ministry of Love to protect us.

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It leaves the definition of "grossly offensive" up to police officers (and judges)

So if the investigating officer is in a bad mood or an idiot, you're screwed.

(Please don't take offence at "you're screwed", it was meant in the nicest possible way.)

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Re: It leaves the definition of "grossly offensive" up to police officers (and judges)

Yes, that sentence is a load of bollocks, isn't it? Fortunately, the police do not have the power to interpret the law but judges quite sensibly do.

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Re: It leaves the definition of "grossly offensive" up to police officers (and judges)

the police do not have the power to interpret the law but judges quite sensibly do

How much time and stress will it take to get from PC Pleb who doesn't like the tone of your voice to Justice Cocklecarrot who throws the case out as pointless?

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Mushroom

Re: It leaves the definition of "grossly offensive" up to police officers (and judges)

too late "crisp" , you're screwed now. The Mary Whitehouse thought police will be banging on your door soon . oh shit so am I !!!

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Re: It leaves the definition of "grossly offensive" up to police officers (and judges)

How much time and stress will it take to get from PC Pleb

Pleb? PLEB??

You're fired! Get out! How could you say something so horrendous. If this doesn't make the front pages tomorrow, there's something seriously wrong with this country!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It leaves the definition of "grossly offensive" up to police officers (and judges)

>Pleb? PLEB??

AND HE SAID IT ON THE INTERWEBS! OMG!

Is there a magistrate in the house? Someone issue an arrest warrant quick.

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Investment opportunity....

Time to invest in a bumper sticker company that makes "If you can read this you are a cunt" (Copyright Great Bu 2013) stickers then.....

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Re: Investment opportunity....

Except that would be abusive, and therefore still illegal.

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Re: Investment opportunity....

Alternative and in remaining perfectly Politically Correctly.

"If you can read this you must be from scunthorpe"

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Re: Investment opportunity....

>Except that would be abusive, and therefore still illegal.

Never understood why that's abusive

Half the population spend most of their life doing everything they can to get close to one

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Investment opportunity....

Given that the bulk of adult humans are 1.5 and 1.85 metres tall, that's not the size of cunt I think the poster was referring to.

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Anonymous Coward

Abusive

In the amended act, the word "insulting" was removed from the line that outlaws "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour". Therefore threats and abusive outbursts remain illegal.

Isnt the hard part going to be working out what is an insult and what is abusive?

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Trollface

So, for instance - I can't call Theresa May a stupid cow in these comments but I could confront her in the street and call her a stupid cow.

Which stupid cow is responsible for this?

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Though I like what you did there, the proposed change seems perfectly reasonable to me. I assume the offence of "common abuse" still exists but there is still a huge difference between calling someone a huge dickwad in a moment of high emotion and publishing it in whatever form.

I've no time for the Tories but Mrs May was one of the first to put her finger in the wound of the "nasty party" only to have her speech as party chairman oveshadowed in press reports by the shoes she was wearing. This change okay, some of the other stuff her department is cooking up certainly isn't.

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Paris Hilton

That, and the simple fact that an online insult stands unretracted for millions to view, while something shouted on the street is a quickly forgotten one-off.

Question arises: if someone shouts abuse at someone on the street, and someone else puts it on youtube (maybe because they agree with the sentiment), it becomes a crime again? But who's the criminal, the shouter or the uploader? Both? Neither? What if shouter and uploader are the same?

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If we're talking about abuse (rather than simply being offensive or insulting, which should not be part of law imo), then these questions become clearer, and it also makes sense to me that in real life is worse.

Whilst many people may have seen the above comment, it's very likely that May herself has not seen it. The issue imo should be whether the person is abused, not how many other people see it. Many of the cases caught under the 2003 Act were not targetted at a person, but were simply someone being offended by the statement. An abusive comment made in real life might reasonably be illegal, but a video of that is simply a video of a crime. Unless you started emailing videos to that person directly, in which case we might reasonably see that as something that is abusive again, similar to harrassment.

Abuse in real life also gives people a much greater fear of violence, even if there isn't an explicit threat. It's harder for people to walk away from it too, you can't simply close the web page, if you're being followed by say a group of people hurling abuse at you.

The 2003 Act was completely poorly written, and should be scrapped for something that specifically targets harrassment of a person (if such laws don't already exist).

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So where would satire fit into this - As I understand things, this is how television funnymen get around the legal wranglings.

As for my original comment, well I have tweeted her a link to this comment.

https://twitter.com/MsTeresaMay - although this may or may not be the MP judging by her bio.

"Mistress Teresa May. @MsTeresaMay. London's leading Mistress,. Domination, Bondage, Servitude, Worship, Flagellation and Financial slavery."

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the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

Is this an attempt to gag people on the net ,who can converse with a much larger and broader number of people, about a vast array of subjects. Its much harder to organise a revelotion when forced to use word of mouth. Hmmmm

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Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

No? Its just 2 different laws at different stages of development...

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Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

Its much harder to organise a revelotion (sic) when forced to use word of mouth

You reckon? Robespierre, Washington, Lenin et al. wouldn't have succeeded without Twitter and Facebook?

Effective revolutions always need their own independent channels of communication.

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Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

Revolution? In the UK? No chance. We Brits don't do revolutions - the ruling elite move just enough to relieve the pressure every time. Probably for the best (revolutions never improve anything: rapid evolution such as the collapse of communist governments in Europe.

Let's face it, the "Glorious Revolution" is almost a tongue-in-cheek name - it consisted of about 12 men and a couple of dogs ...

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Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

@charlie clarke: i never said it would be impossible. Think of the benefits that the revolutionairies you mentioned would have found from having facebook.

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Joke

Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

"@charlie clarke: i never said it would be impossible. Think of the benefits that the revolutionairies you mentioned would have found from having facebook."

Vladimir Lenin has invited you to an event : Storm the winter palace 25th october

Tzar Nicholas wants you to help him plant crops in farmville

Leon Trotsky poked you

Vladimir Lenin likes the page Karl Marx's 100 silly kitty pictures

Joseph Stalin has sent you a friend request

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Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

@Mike Brown: Think of the negatives as the truth of revolutionaries get revealed. The revolutionaries you write about were openly contemptuous of the masses who put their necks on the line, and always had a fast horse\car available in case things turned sour.

Try using the old tactic of shouting out buzzwords and slogans to rouse the (ignorant no more) masses, while your enforcers stamp down on any dissenting voices. It just wont work nowadays; the people formally on the podium are now just faces in the crowd. In this new world everyone has access to the facts (and not just those supplied by the opposing factions) and a voice of their own.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

"Try using the old tactic of shouting out buzzwords and slogans to rouse the (ignorant no more) masses, while your enforcers stamp down on any dissenting voices. It just wont work nowadays"

It seems to work perfectly well for the Government.

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Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

I'd accept the Stalin friend request, or close your facebook account, change your name and leave the country.

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Happy

Actually

my lad bought me a book last year "A history of the world according to facebook" which is pretty much that ...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

>Let's face it, the "Glorious Revolution" is almost a tongue-in-cheek name - it consisted of about 12 men and a couple of dogs ...

And was neither glorious, nor a revolution. Opening the door to a foreign invasion is treason.

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Re: the tin foil hat wearer in me is deeply troubled

@Mike Browne

Think of the benefits that the revolutionairies you mentioned would have found from having facebook.

I suggest you look up "samizdat".

Of course, one interesting conclusion that could be drawn from your suggestion is that revolutions are more likely now that the Nathan Barley's of the world have access to such great technologies. Should we all now flock to the Sugar Ape banner? What are our demands? Smoked salmon lattes? Geek pie hair cuts for all? Easy to see the powers that be tremble before massed ranks of people playing muff, cock, bumhole!

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Trollface

Grey area

Where would the law stand if I stood on a street corner with a sign saying "all **** are ***** and i wish they would ******" *, and it got photographed by Google and put into Streeview?

*If you want to see the original, I can supply GPS co-ordinates of where I shall be standing with it at some point in the future.

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Coat

Re: Grey area

Just thought of a name for the practice:

Geotrashing.

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Anonymous Coward

Or just use Tor.

A correctly configured Tor setup where ALL outgoing connections are forced through Tor (i.e Tails) you can still have freedom of speech on twitter (not sure if Facebook block Tor connections, but twitter do not)

As long as your aware of the fact that the contents of your message can be intercepted at the exit node you will be fine (the contents can be, not where the contents came from...).

I have heard about a new Tor hidden service site - sms4tor - this allows you to send anonymous sms messages from within the tor network (its a hidden service so no monitoring of exit nodes can effect you as your connection doesn't exit - the sms message does...) .

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Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

Being insulted is a matter of personal beliefs, interpretation and state of mind - its practially impossible to say anything that is guarenteed not to insult somebody. Unless insulting behaviour / language is also covered by another offence (e.g. because its abusive or antisocial) then it shouldn't be an offence.

That goes for social media too (where apparently the laws of Libel already apply).

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

Well said, Justin! I wish I could give you more upvotes!

I know I keep saying it, but it is because it is true - no-one has (nor should have) a right not to be offended.

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

It probably should be illegal in some form or other. We seek to protect people from harm, punish those who cause harm, and if harm is caused through insults (or abuse) there ought to be a mechanism to address that.

That's the UK principle anyway and seems reasonable enough to me. it's different in the US where hate itself is not illegal nor a crime and citizens robustly defend the constitutionally protected right to hate.

The problem, as noted, is how to determine what is criminally "insulting" or "abusive" and otherwise not, whether the harm claimed is legitimate or not. The DPP/CPS's rationale for accepting the change was that all cases of legitimate prosecutions for "insulting" were also covered by "abusive" so it would not really affect things.

While the arrest for asking if a police horse is gay demonstrates the sometimes malicious nature of policing on the ground it doesn't follow that the law is unsound or that the trivial is being routinely punished in court, though such laws are indeed capable of being used punitively and prejudicially.

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

It's easy to have different interpretations.

For instance someone might think they were being politically correct in referring to another person as an "African American". And the other person might feel grievously insulted at being called a Septic.

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Pint

Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

@Christoph

I actually saw this happen a long time ago where an American interviewer was utterly incapable of calling Linford Christie "black" at his request when he objected to being called American (on the grounds that, er, he isn't).

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

"It probably should be illegal in some form or other. We seek to protect people from harm, punish those who cause harm, and if harm is caused through insults (or abuse) there ought to be a mechanism to address that."

There is no form of harm that can be objectively shown to result from an insult. Anything at all can be 'insulting' or 'harm causing' (if enough imagination is leveraged) by the 'victim', If the harm is outside the realm of the objectively measurable .

Total muddleheadedness - words fail me

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

Personally I don't really care what anyone calls me if they are attempting to 'verbally abuse' me.

They are, in my opinion, free to stand there (as long as they don't try to get in my way or attempt to physically impede me in any way) and call me a wan*er, a c*nt, a waste of fresh air or whatever.

They can attempt to insult my family, my beliefs, my race as much as they like.

Why? Because I simply don't find such childish behaviour insulting or in any way abusive - I am not that anal about life. I'm too busy enjoying life.

I believe that anyone should have the right to (attempt to) attack me verbally.

That said, I do however reserve the right to question if they believe such name-calling is appropriate or in any way contributes towards an adult discussion (which it usually doesn't).

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

The law is supposed to be about intent rather than interpretation.

That you are offended by something does not mean it was intended to be offensive. It is for the person who felt offended to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused intended to be insulting/offensive. This is already covered by law: Harassment covers verbal abuse as well as physical. There is no need for the words to be insulting to be harassing, either, so the harassment law is much more flexible and reasonable.

As usual, there is no need for a separate offense. Unnecessary laws just confuse and obfuscate the real crimes.

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

@Dogged

I once described a person as being 'black: Afro-Caribbean'. This got a bit of an odd reception until I pointed out that it was the nationally accepted description/designation of someone who was black and of Afro-Caribbean descent. After all, it's on government systems and the census as that, so if someone wishes to take offense they first need to talk to the National Audits office.

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

The harm aspect is covered by "abuse". The problem with "insulting" is it's wider than that - a 3rd party may be insulted, even if they are not the target of abuse (e.g., the horse case). And the state of being insulted is simply up to the person themselves, where as being abused is not - there must be some element of emotional harm, and it's something that is perhaps a bit more objective, and is not simply up to the person claiming it.

Are there any cases of "insulting" that cause harm, and should be illegal, that aren't covered by "abusive"?

I find it sad that recent laws have so much trouble getting this right. It's reasonable that say, harrassing someone via phone or email should be illegal, or perhaps randomly being verbally abusive in the streets, but that isn't the same thing as someone being insulted or offended by any message.

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

I think part of the problem with verbal abusive in real life is the fear of danger. If someone is walking at night, and a gang of guys starts shouting names at that person - well, in an ideal world they wouldn't care, but for many, it's hard not to be shaken or worried by that experience. This is different to online - there's the threat of violence, which also means many people would feel unable to retaliate. It's also harder to avoid it - you can't just close the web page or whatever.

(Not that I disagree with this change, there's no reason to cover "insulting", which is a much broader thing, and it's good to remove that from the law.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

I will only agree with you if the 'victim' is diagnosed officially with depression. Otherwise, some people need to grow up and learn to handle insults.

Points 'in-favour' of online insults being illegal because it being 'retained' is stupid. Published insults only cause harm in a world where the number of publishers are limited and the number of listeners relies on those limited publishers.

Today's world isn't like that. Everyone can become a publisher but the listeners doesn't need to listen. This means the amount of rubbish out there is tremendous. Which means, people are already being forced to learn to distinguish fact from fiction, trolls from debate.

Honestly, those who're proposing such internet laws only just managed to learn how to get online and now they already think they know enough to force everyone to use it their way. Back off grandmas.

This is why we're against government trying to control the net.

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

"Being insulted is a matter of personal beliefs, interpretation and state of mind" - this is exactly it. There should be some common ground where the only sane solution is to shrug and say "shit happens"...

It should not be an offence to call somebody a moron in the heat of the moment, any more than it should be an offence to tweet something akin to "if they don't get the goddamned airport running soon I'm gonna blow the whole place up!". The person has made a regrettable faux pas, but they are letting off steam, not directly insulting me or making a bona fide terrorist threat.

The law, and the resources of such, should be left for cases where messages can demonstrate harm ("john is a useless plumber, I wouldn't trust him to fix a leaky tap" - could cause loss of earnings [note: doesn't need to PROVE such loss, just demonstrate that it may affect his business/reputation [subnote: unless can be shown to be true!]]) or make accusations ("my sicko pervert neighbour is a kiddie-fiddler") which, likewise, are more directly intended to be damaging and harmful.

Here's the question, I guess. Was said message intended to cause harm and damage, or is somebody just being a twat and shooting off a string of insults because they are annoyed? It happens. Today I had to make a special journey (40 miles round trip) to sign a piece of paper because the sales rep when I changed my phone contract omitted to verify that all the paperwork was all in order. I thought of quite a number of choice insults to throw at him, but I kept them in my head. If I have a grievance about his lack of competence, it is that that I would be on about, not him as a person. Justified? I would say possibly. Insulting? Possibly. Illegal? Don't be ridiculous.

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Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

"I will only agree with you if the 'victim' is diagnosed officially with depression. Otherwise, some people need to grow up and learn to handle insults." - Makes me wonder how such people survived the school playground. My God, I learned some stuff there that even Channel4 hasn't yet touched upon (although "The Mary Whitehouse Experience" got close on a few occasions). And yes, I've been insulted in about a dozen languages (there's one African language where "dickhead" is quite a nice sounding word, but it was twenty years ago so I don't remember).

"This means the amount of rubbish out there is tremendous." - hehe, such as the "LIKE" button. With no option to DISlike, nor a count of how many people visited and did not choose to LIKE, it is a completely rubbish statistic. 4,458 people "LIKE" The Register. If that is four and a half out of five thousand, it's impressive. If that's four and a half out of fifty thousand, it's less so.

"Which means, people are already being forced to learn to distinguish fact from fiction, trolls from debate." - yet the banks keep on and on pointing out on their home page, in letters, and even in one case a sticker attached to the front of the bank card "YOUR BANK WILL NEVER ASK FOR YOUR PASSWORD OR PIN OVER THE PHONE OR BY EMAIL" yet people still fall for the old scams.

<snide aside>If you want a good demonstration of fiction, look up the weather forecast for the rest of the week - you will find as many different forecasts as there are forecast sites, and when Saturday rolls around you'll see they were generally wrong.</>

"those who're proposing such internet laws only just managed to learn how to get online and now they already think they know enough to force everyone to use it their way." - or maybe "WTF d'you mean I can't silence my critics?" and "who the hell is this 'anonymous' guy?" and so on. I can only imagine that to a control freak always-must-have-his-own-way pocket-lining politician, exposure to what the internet offers beyond the usual sanctioned gov websites much be a shock bordering on unmitigated horror. People can, like, TALK. Freely. Openly. And "butthurt" is one of the politer expressions. Hey Mr. Politician: yes, they're talking about YOU and planning your downfall...feel free to read and chip in when you figure out how. ;-)

"This is why we're against government trying to control the net."

I'm against it basically because they just can't. A while back I received an offer for a free ebook about how to beat your wife so it won't show. No, I didn't report it to the police, the mail headers point to the message originating in Russia. So I might get the police asking me a lot of questions about how I came to receive such material (it was sent to the address I use for usenet posting on comp.sys.acorn.* !) and given it is out of the country and out of Europe, that's about as far as it will go. So I deleted the message with all of the rest punting viagara and prescription medicines. Governments have been largely powerless to do much about that junk, so I figure it'd just be another item to add to the FAIL pile. Of course, I do get a tickle when some twit politician comes on South Today to talk about regulating/enforcing/controlling The Internet and I'm thinking short of baking NetNanny into all connections into the UK, does this guy even have a clue what he is on about?

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@Jason Bloomberg: Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

Despite of your presumably benign intent, I find myself greatly insulted by your suggestion that "being insulting" should be illegal. When can I expect you to turn yourself in to your local police station?

The problem with making laws under which people get prosecuted on the basis of entirely subjective evidences is thus: If this were really brought to court, there would be no way for the defendant, J Bloomberg to demonstrate that the complainant, S Count was being facetious.

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Trollface

Re: Being "insulting" should not be illegal in its own right

Quote: "john is a useless plumber, I wouldn't trust him to fix a leaky tap" - could cause loss of earnings

The 2nd part is purely opinion, and surely must never...EVER... be prosecuted. The opinion itself may be flawed, but it's covered under freedom of speech laws... yes, we do STILL have that in the UK, even now.

The 1st part could be interpreted as a statement implying fact, granted. But even then, the addition of "I believe" before it would render that an opinion also.

Allegedly...

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