In The UK, Inciting Riots On Facebook Will Land You Three Years In Jail

    October 28, 2011
    Josh Wolford

If you remember those riots that consumed many parts of England back in August, you probably remember all of the discussion regarding social media’s influence on their spread.

At the height of the outbursts, triggered by social unrest, Prime Minister David Cameron discussed the possibility of censoring some elements of social media. Speaking on the subject, Cameron said that free flow of information can be good and bad and submitted that the answer might be in stopping communication via social sites like Twitter and Facebook.

That idea received opposition from the social sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as RIM, whose BlackBerry Messenger was vital to the rioter’s communications. In the end, social media communications were not restricted.

Which brings us to Phillip Scott Burgess.

Today, The Telegraph reports that the 22-year-old Manchester resident has been sentenced to three years in jail for his use of Facebook during the riots.

On August 9th, Burgess posted this as his status:

“Message to all – we need to start riot’n we need to put Manchester on the map, first lets riot king street Manchester, haha.”

Later that day, he posted derogatory remarks regarding the race and ethnicity of some of the protestors. Over the course of the next few days, he posted more racially charged statuses and ended by saying “Bring bk the riots.” He was arrested on August 16th.

He plead guilty to three counts of “publishing written material to stir up racial hatred and encouraging or assisting the commission of a riot.” He will now reside in a cell for a maximum of 3 years.

The sentence, according to the judge, was based on the belief that people who had a hand in organizing the riots are just as responsible as those who participated in the looting and vandalism.

John Hepke, part of the police team that sought Burgess after he made the Facebook posts had this to say about the ruling:

“Everyone witnessed the disgraceful scenes of violence, looting and arson and it is clear that social networking sites were used to incite certain elements of this disorder…I hope today’s sentence sends a powerful message to those who choose to follow Burgess’ example and use social networking sites irresponsibly and criminally that they will be dealt with harshly by the courts.”

During the riots, it was clear to those watching online that some of the youth failed to keep their thinking caps on at all times. Not all social-media fails involved inciting the riots – others used Facebook and Twitter to talk about the car they had just smashed or the item they had just stolen.

And this kind of use of social media isn’t limited to those in the UK. Folks were pretty senseless when it came to social media use during the Vancouver hockey riots as well.

How do you feel about this case? Do Burgess’ posts make him just as guilty as those who actively participated in the violence? Let us know what you think.