Stacey, 21, tweeted the comments on St. Patrick’s Day using the handle @LiamStacey9 after U.K. soccer star Fabrice Muamba, who plays for the Bolton Wanderers, collapsed on the field during a live televised soccer match. His initial tweet, “LOL, F___ Muamba. He’s dead!!! HAHA,” incited a host of backlash from other users, who found the remark offensive. Stacey responded back with more commentary, which is when the racial language ensued.
In his court hearing yesterday, Stacey “admitted inciting racial hatred.” When authorities first arrested him under a “public order offense” the day after he posted the comments, he had tried to distance himself from the tweets, saying his account had been hacked.
Upon initial questioning, Stacey told police he was drunk when he posted the tweets. When he received the court sentencing yesterday, “he broke down in tears,” according to the BBC. He has since also been suspended from his university until further notice.
Prosecutor Jim Brisbane said the racist language was the cause for incitement. “Racist language is inappropriate in any setting and through any media,” he said. “We hope this case will serve as a warning to anyone who may think that the comments made online are somehow beyond the law.”
In the U.K., police forces “regularly take action against those who post racially offensive remarks on Twitter,” though these actions by the police are rarely made public.
As expected, Twitter users are reacting to the sentencing online, with comments ranging from supporting the punishment to wondering if it is too much.
Liam Stacey jailed for 56 days for comments made on Twitter about Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba.BLOODY GOOD JOB. Be warned idiots !
Indeed, the question of whether racism on Twitter or other online media outlets deserves as much attention as U.K. courts are giving to it is at the heart of some of the less-than-excited reactions. As Joseph Harker pointed out in an op-ed for the Guardian, cases like Stacey’s, which would have gone unnoticed a few years ago, have found themselves under scrutiny because the public domain now includes the digital world. And everyone is “venting their emotions in public.”
Harker also acknowledged that most of the people who do vent in public are doing so without realizing the implications of their attitudes:
The sad individuals who vent their emotions this way have never been the real problem: they’re mostly uneducated, they hold little real power over me, and the threat they pose is minimal. By contrast, the people who actually go out organizing, who form political organizations pledged to ethnically cleanse the country, forcing me and my family out, are the real danger. And they seem to get away with everything.
According to Harker, the U.K. courts are going after these public displays of racism because they are “quick wins” to try to claim that racism will no longer be tolerated.
Stacey’s Twitter account, @LiamStacey9, has since been taken down, and he has been ordered not to use Twitter or other social networking sites. However, a video on YouTube has captured the tweets that led to his initial arrest and subsequent sentencing. It reflects Stacey’s transition in language and attitude upon realizing the severity of his remarks. WARNING: View with caution. Some of the language may be offensive.