A UK Twitter user named Joseph Kelly has been sentenced to 150 hours of community service for posting a ‘grossly offensive’ tweet about Captain Sir Tom Moore, a British Army officer who collected funds for the NHS during the pandemic.
Moore has become a national figure in the UK after taking 100 laps around his garden before his 100th birthday. He was later knighted by the Queen. The day after he died, Kelly, 36, tweeted “the only good British soldier is an act, burn an old guy buuuuurn”.
Kelly was found guilty in February last year and faces a prison sentence. Her case drew attention to often-criticized UK legislation that allows social media users to be prosecuted for sending “grossly offensive” messages.
As reported by The National, Kelly was sentenced on Wednesday. His defense argued that Kelly had few Twitter followers at the time; that he had been drinking before writing the message; and that he deleted the tweet just 20 minutes after sending it.
“He admits he was wrong. He hadn’t foreseen what was going to happen. He took action almost immediately to delete the tweet, but the genie was out of the bottle by then,” said Kelly’s defense agent Tony Callahan “His level of criminality was a drunken post, at a time when he was struggling emotionally, which he regretted and almost instantly removed.”
Kelly was sentenced to 18 months of supervision and 150 hours of unpaid work in the form of a Scottish Community Reimbursement Order (CPO).
Sheriff Adrian Cottam, who sentenced Kelly, told the 36-year-old: ‘My opinion is after hearing the evidence that this was a hugely offensive tweet. Deterrence is really about showing people that despite the legwork you’ve taken to try to recall things, as soon as you hit the blue button, that’s it. It’s important for other people to realize how quickly things can spiral out of control. You are a good example of this, not having a lot of followers.
Kelly was found guilty under section 127 of the UK Communications Act. The law was originally intended to prosecute people who made offensive comments over the phone, but it has since been used to control “grossly offensive” messages on social media. Hundreds of British citizens have been convicted under Section 127, often for insulting, abusing and harassing public figures such as athletes, journalists and MPs.
Section 127 is set to be replaced by Britain’s sweeping Online Safety Bill, though critics fear the new legislation could allow prosecutions similar to Kelly’s – with citizens found guilty of messaging “harmful” based on vague notions of public morality.