Saturday 3 December 2016

It's about time the law punished online abusers

I don't mind offensive opinions, but abusive ones are just that, and they are not to be confused with free speech

Mairia Cahill

Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30

TACKLING THE ISSUE: Senator Lorraine Higgins, who has been the subject of vile abuse through email, has introduced the Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill to deal with online and social media abuse. Photo: Gerry Mooney
TACKLING THE ISSUE: Senator Lorraine Higgins, who has been the subject of vile abuse through email, has introduced the Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill to deal with online and social media abuse. Photo: Gerry Mooney

I'm not a champion of Voltaire when it comes to electronic communications. I have no desire to fight to the death for the rights of online psychopaths to say whatever they like about people. Having been on the receiving end of it, I don't submit to the freedom of speech argument when it comes to abuse, or harassment via social media platforms. I find the actions of those who have a sadistic, pre-meditated wish to cause intentional distress to people abhorrent, and believe that these individuals should be held accountable for their actions.

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That's not to say I don't respect the right of people to have differing opinions, even if they are offensive - I do. Take the case of Pastor McConnell in Belfast, whom the North's Public Prosecution Service decided to prosecute last month for giving a sermon in his Belfast church in May 2014, which was streamed online and later created a furore. McConnell is known for saying things that are controversial, such as "…two lesbians living together are not a family, they are sexual perverts playing let's pretend". Offensive to some, but it was his following remarks that caused the public outcry. "Islam is heathen," he belted out from the pulpit, "Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell."

The prosecution charge against him is one of "sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive". Ergo, he now finds himself in the situation where he is to be prosecuted for the streaming of his comments, rather than the sermon itself.

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