#MyTramExperience – Grounds for arrest?

[Warning- Video contains swearing and racist, abusive language]

A woman has been arrested and charged after a video entitled ‘My Tram Experience’ went viral, sparking off widespread outrage across the internet.

If you haven’t seen the video, I’ve linked it above. Less than a day old, the video has already gathered over 2,500,000 views, due, in part, to it being spread around social media websites like wildfire. In the video, the woman in question launches a tirade of abuse and racist comments at fellow passengers, ranting about how Britain is “no longer British” and focusing her attention on passengers of ‘ethnic’ origin who she claims are not actually British. Such inflammatory quotes from the woman include:

“You’re black; you ain’t British. Go back to where you came from.”

“None of you are f**king English. Get back to your own country. Sort your own countries, don’t come and do mine.

“What has this country come to? … with loads of black people and a load of fucking Polish. You ain’t English either. None of you are fucking English. Get back to your own fucking, d’you know what?”
The video was posted online and was quickly spread around, with internet users quick to demonise her and assert their own moral standpoints. I was glad that there was such a public outrage to such blatant, harrowing racist abuse against docile passengers on public transport, and I actually thought it was a good thing that the video was made publicly available for people to criticise and discuss. It is encouraging to see the heightened level of public outcry at such racism.
And then I began to feel uneasy… The public outcry and the condemnation, I felt, was a good thing. Racism should not be tolerated. But I was uneasy about the extent of the backlash and the calls from members of the public for her to be arrested.
Piers Morgan even got involved, commenting on the video via Twitter and calling for the woman to be named and shamed, and deported – quite where she would be deported to remains a mystery:
“Most disgusting thing I’ve watched in years. I want this woman arrested, and deported. Makes me ashamed to be British”
“That video’s all over Twitter now. Someone must know the repulsive racist wretch. Name and shame her.”

The problem is, many of the tabloids will report this and shame the woman, despite the fact that many of her ill-informed, racist views regarding ethnicity and immigration will no doubt be fuelled by the right-wing media. Tabloids won’t ever pause and reflect on whether their biased reporting and twisted use of statistics has contributed to such examples of racist rants.

Also, the woman in the video seems a bit ‘odd’, to use a term. I don’t know her background or anything, but it seemed to me as if she was drunk, on drugs, or even mentally ill. Not because of the racism, but because of her demeanour and speech… But this is precisely it: we don’t know her, or her background, and neither do we know what led up to the video. The video begins when she is already ranting, we don’t know what set her off or what happened prior to the beginning of the recording. Now, racism is never justified and her ranting is disgraceful and shameful, but the moral outcry has negative as well as positive aspects.

The internet outcry reminded me of the backlash to the London riots this summer, which at the time shocked me, to be honest. There were calls for the rioters/looters to have their benefits removed (after being imprisoned), for them to be evicted from council housing (whole families, even if their son/daughter was the only one who was involved in the riots)… there were calls for martial law, for live ammunition- for protestors to be shot on sight, for the military to be drafted in alongside the police… calls for water cannons, tear gas… calls for social media websites to be shut down in a bid to censor the internet, and much more. Essentially, the public outcry was almost as shocking as the actual riots themselves. Thankfully, the rioting stopped without any draconian measures, backed by public calls, to be implemented, though the outcry (I believe) contributed to the harsh sentences passed on convicted rioters – designed to send a “message” rather than to dole out justice.

The issue with the woman on the tram is complicated. On the one hand, she has a right to freedom of speech. This is an important right that people often ignore; freedom of speech, it seems, is fine unless someone says something you do not agree with, or they say something inflammatory. On the other hand, she clearly was being abusive and there are laws against hate speech and the like. What is worrying is just the extent and the lengths of the public outcry at such ‘events’ – it is often reactionary, ill-informed and short-sighted, I feel.

The police already have laws in place to deal with this sort of thing, and should we be so quick to call for a woman to be arrested or even deported because of an argument? It is a touchy subject, and I in no way endorse her racism. I think it is disgusting, and like I stated I am actually happy that so many have come out to decry racism in this country, but we have to be very careful we do not set a precedent with this matter. Should all people who hold racist views be imprisoned? Should we prevent people with inflammatory or ill-informed views from speaking their mind, infringing on their right to freedom of speech? The benefit, and problem, of social media and the internet today is that such videos, events, etc., can spread virally within seconds. Public ‘campaigns’ can be created and disseminated within minutes; the first UK government e-petition to reach the 100,000 mark needed for parliamentary debate was the petition for convicted London rioters to lose any benefits that they were receiving, which I felt would do nothing to deter future looting nor would it help ‘rehabilitate’ convicted rioters back into society. As Sunny Hundal wrote:

“…to criminalise simply being offensive or swearing in public would have half of Britain in jail.”

I agree with Sunny, who also said:

“I would much prefer such racism to be open and visible because there are still far too many Westminster commentators who think racism is a thing of the past”

It is very encouraging that the video was disseminated online and in the public domain. It opens it to public debate, and does help to show that racism is very much still alive, especially in ‘tolerant’ Britain. My issue arises with the way the online discussion is conducted, and the way some people seem more keen to assert their moral standpoint than actually denouncing racism. Calls for the woman to be deported, for example, are ridiculous, and should we be so keen for the police to arrest people? To imprison people we do not agree with? You cannot consistently lock people up because you feel insulted, or because you disagree with their comments… So I feel uneasy about the whole affair. On the one hand, perhaps she should be arrested for hate speech. On the other hand, perhaps she should be entitled to freedom of speech, to speak her mind, whether her views are ill-informed or shameful. Is it not enough that this woman is publicly shamed online? Is it not enough that fellow passengers stood up to her and disagreed with her comments?

It is a difficult issue, no doubt.

US orders Twitter to hand over private information

A member of parliament in Iceland is starting a legal fight to stop the US getting hold of her private information and messages.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic MP, was a former WikiLeaks volunteer. This alone has led to the US justice department issuing a subpoena directly to Twitter to get hold of her information. Jonsdottir said on Twitter that the “USA government wants to know about all my tweets and more since november 1st 2009. Do they realize I am a member of parliament in Iceland?”

She said that the US was “just sending a message and of course they are asking for a lot more than just my tweets.” Demanding a meeting with the US ambassador to Iceland, she adds “the justice department has gone completely over the top.” US authorities had requested personal information from her as well as private messages from Twitter, and she is now considering her legal position.

It’s not just about my information. It’s a warning for anyone who had anything to do with WikiLeaks. It is completely unacceptable for the US justice department to flex its muscles like this”, Jonsdottir stated.

The US has already investigated people who have merely donated to WikiLeaks via Mastercard, Visa and PayPal, however the online watchdog the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) has already requested that the US authorities hand over information regarding their investigations into people who have donated. Marc Rotenberg, president of EPIC, said it appeared as if the US justice department was looking at building a case against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, though Rotenberg added that it seems “unlikely” that a lawful prosecution could be brought against WikiLeaks.

Those who read my post Facebook Law Enforcement should be aware that the US authorities are already monitoring social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and users should be aware that the much-heralded rise in social networking can have detrimental effects as well as beneficial ones. Your personal information is very valuable in the 21st Century, where information is becoming a new currency, and not even foreign members of parliament are safe.

Remember, this is coming from the country who ordered the spying on fellow UN members, and who requested personal biometric data from various African leaders, according to leaked diplomatic cables. They do not respect private, personal information. Yet they are well aware of its importance.

Facebook Law Enforcement

Facebook Law Enforcement

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Official ...

Image via Wikipedia

The US government has, earlier this year, released documents outlining a new program that involves tracking social networking websites and social media websites. Facebook already has procedures in place, dating back to 2007 and updated yearly, to submit personal information of its users to law enforcement agencies should the need arise. The data that it is willing to hand over ranges from your mobile number and contact details, to your friend lists; from photos you have uploaded and been tagged in, to video posts that you have uploaded; from wall posts to status updates; even your IP address and session cookies. The list goes on. Facebook has long been criticised for its handling of private data and the fact that you can never fully “delete” your account, so those who value their privacy and security will be perturbed to know that Facebook is willing to share your personal information, friends, family, IP address, etc with relevant authorities. There are those who state that, “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”, though this statement has been criticised by many. Are we sleep-walking into a surveillance state? Is the surveillance state already here?

As stated, the potential for government agencies to request personal data that you upload to Facebook is already in place, but that it not the end of social media monitoring. Facebook is but one social media website out of many. All social media users should be aware of the types of information that can legitimately be passed on to various agencies, and the true extent of the monitoring. Earlier this year, Continue reading

The Topshop Protests of 2010

UK Uncut Demonstration 04/12/10

Image by ucloccupation via Flickr

Today hundreds of campaigners have taken over several high-street stores in cities and towns across the UK. The campaigners are protesting against tax avoidence by big businesses who are costing the UK billions of pounds in missed tax, coming at a time when the coalition government has announced massive cuts to the welfare system and public services.

Topshop branches across the country have been closed temporarily, with campaigners arranging sit-ins and demonstrations both inside the shops and outside the front. Branches in the UK that have been targeted include Topshop’s Oxford Street store, London, as well as stores in Glasgow, Birmingham and Brighton to name but a few.

The movement, known as UK Uncut, only began this year but has gained huge support – organising sit-ins and demonstrations predominantely through the use of social networking sites such as Twitter. This allows mass demonstrations to be organised with relatively short notice, whilst also Continue reading

Twitter FAQs

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

What on earth is Twitter?

Twitter is a social networking website that allows users to exchange quick status updates, or “tweets”, of 140 characters or less. It is currently one of the top social networking sites with more than 170 million users.

So what do I need to get started?

All you need is access to a computer or a mobile phone. Of course you will need an internet connection if using a computer… Once you are on the Twitter homepage, simply create an account and you will be be able to send your first “tweet”!

How do I find and communicate with people that I know?

Once you have a Twitter account you can search for friends, import friends from other social networks, and if you still cannot find anyone you can invite friends via email. Once you have found someone, you can “follow” them to subscribe to their updates, which will then start appearing on your feed. This is as easy as clicking on their profile, then clicking on the “follow” button. Similarly, people can follow you to receive your tweets. People who follow you are called “Followers”, whilst you are “Following” those that you have subscribed to. See, it’s not too complicated!

Continue reading