Jail time for a Facebook stunt goes to show that what you do with social media can have real world legal consequences. It is important to recognise that the laws that apply in the real world also apply in cyberspace. Earlier in the year, in our article ‘Cyberspace is no longer a lawless world’ (27 April 2012), we wrote about the case of Ronnie Usmanov who was ordered to serve a suspended sentence for posting nude photos of his exgirlfriend on Facebook. The more recent case of David McRory and Joshua Turner is another demonstration of the potential extent of those legal consequences.
David McRory and his friend Joshua Turner, both 22, created a Facebook page called Bender’s Root Rate which invited Bendigo citizens to rate the sexual performance of their partners, some as young as 13.
It has been reported that hundreds of people had sexually explicit things written about them.
McRory and Turner both pleaded guilty in the Bendigo Magistrates Court to using an online carriage service to publish objectionable and offensive material.
McRory was sentenced to four months jail on each of the two Facebook related charges, to be served concurrently. McRory is currently on bail pending an appeal on sentence, however, if his appeal fails, he will be the first person to serve a jail sentence for publishing offensive material on social media in Australia.
Magistrate Wright said a jail sentence was appropriate to send a strong message to the public about unacceptable online behaviour. He said, “these sorts of matters deserve the condemnation of the court”.
In a separate hearing, Turner was given a suspended six-month prison sentence and was banned from using Facebook for two years. Turner is also appealing his sentence.
With social media, being such a fast medium for information, it is inevitable that people will post stupid comments. According to Leading Senior Constable Riley, McRory had set up the page for “a laugh, entertainment”. A jail sentence appears to be disproportionate for an action of immaturity.
It is interesting that the actions of McRory and Turner have put them in such hot water given that Facebook started as a “hot or not” game for Harvard students that allowed website visitors to compare two student pictures side-by-side and let them choose who was “hot” and who was “not”. McRory and Turner may have faced a different outcome if their Facebook page was not an open forum to comment (often in a derogatory manner) about the performance of sexual partners. Maybe if the Facebook page had simply been a rating system similar to the origins of Facebook, their fate may have been quite different.
Internationally, social media crimes are also being recognised. In the UK in March this year, Liam Stacey admitted to posting racially offensive comments on Twitter about England Under 21 international footballer, Fabrice Muamba, who suffered a cardiac arrest during a televised FA Cup match between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur. Stacey said that when he posted the comments, he had been drunk. Within two hours, the situation had escalated and turned into a ‘witch-hunt’ for him. He was sentenced to jail for 56 days, however, was released after serving half the sentence.
These cases illustrate the legal consequences that can result from misuse of social media. As Magistrate Wright stated, “I need to send you and others a message”, the only question is, whether that message was too strong?
Given the speed in which information travels through cyberspace, this case is a timely reminder that everyone has to be aware of the ramifications that can arise from posting inappropriate material and comments on social media platforms.