Tweeters who viciously abuse others on twitter should be aware that they do not have the legal right to attack other people and escape scot free. These tweeters seem to think that they have the right to pour the most incendiary and vile abuse on others and cite free speech as their right. This is faulty thinking, morally wrong, but more importantly, legally incorrect. Members of Westboro Baptist Church for example, have been specifically banned from entering Canada for hate speech.
The right to free speech is not absolute in any country. It carries responsibilities and restrictions, and is commonly subject to limitations, as with libel, slander, obscenity and incitement to commit a crime. For specific information relating to the UK, read here.
The definition of free speech is as follows: “The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Article 19 goes on to say that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals”
“According to the Freedom Forum Organization, legal systems, and society at large, recognize limits on the freedom of speech, particularly when freedom of speech conflicts with other values or rights. Limitations to freedom of speech may follow the “harm principle” or the “offense principle”, for example in the case of pornography, religious belief or hate speech. Limitations to freedom of speech may occur through legal sanction or social disapprobation, or both.”
So anyone who sees free speech as a right to abuse and vilify without restraint needs to think again. Apart from the moral aspect that civilised societies believe we need to extend courtesy and consideration to each other, there are legal restrictions on letting rip. As in the case of the young lad who abused Tom Daley on twitter, you could be chucked into a holding cell, investigated and under threat for a sentence of possible jail time.