Police in Scotland have announced that they intend to investigate “offensive comments” made on Twitter and other social media, prompting a huge backlash, with one columnist describing the move as a “terrifying” lurch towards George Orwell’s thought police.
The controversy began when outspoken British TV host Katie Hopkins made a couple of jokes about an Ebola victim who arrived in Scotland being sent to a hospital in London.
“Sending us Ebola bombs in the form of sweaty Glaswegians just isn’t cricket,” Hopkins wrote. In a second tweet, she stated, “Glaswegian ebola patient moved to London’s Royal Free Hospital. Not so independent when it matters most are we jocksville?”
Though the jokes were obviously tasteless, thousands of people signed an online petition demanding Hopkins be arrested for inciting “racial hatred”. A second petition, signed by a further 25,000 people, called for Hopkins to be charged for her “racist tweets”. Hopkins’ detractors claimed that the tweets were “racist,” apparently inventing a new race of people (Scots) in the process.
Scottish Police quickly responded, announcing that they would be investigating Hopkins’ remarks as well as any other “offensive comments” made on social media.
Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media & any offensive comments will be investigated.
— Police Scotland (@policescotland) December 30, 2014
The backlash was vitriolic, with London Independent columnist James Bloodworth labeling police involvement in the issue “utterly terrifying”.
“The overused Orwellian cliché has finally become the reality: Big Brother in the form of an overzealous and under regulated police force really is watching you,” wrote Bloodworth, adding, “At some point we accepted the dreadful premise that unpleasant – and yes “offensive” – opinions ought to be silenced by force.”
Others noted that while cops were busy taking on the role of thought police, the investigation of actual crimes was being neglected.
Police Scotland are "investigating" @KTHopkins for sending a tweet. There are currently 77 unsolved murders in Scotland.
— Alex Wickham (@WikiGuido) December 31, 2014
If you're being raped or burgled, don't worry because the police are busy hunting down "offensive" tweets. pic.twitter.com/zbdLym3fLQ
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) January 1, 2015
Scotland. Murder rate is 2nd highest in Europe. Meanwhile @policescotland warn against "offensive" tweets. Sensitive lot, it seems.
— Hand of GOD (@HandofGOD7) December 30, 2014
UKIP leader Nigel Farage responded to the issue by asserting that it should be down to the public to judge Hopkins, branding the investigation “a waste of police time”.
This is not the first time that remarks made by Hopkins have prompted a national debate about freedom of speech. During a recording for a show about weight loss, a “fat acceptance activist” called the police and reported Hopkins for committing the “hate crime” of asking why a fat person was fat.
Over 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated by police for comments made online over the last three years.
Read more comments in response to the issue from Twitter users below.
— Mysterious Man (@UKIP2014) January 2, 2015
Hey @policescotland how does it feel to be the laughing stock of police forces worldwide? Reminder that feminists don’t pay taxes
— Mr. Bones (@wellplayd_ggate) January 2, 2015
You know what's offensive? Chilling speech on social media. Investigate your Orwellian selves, @policescotland.
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) December 31, 2014
I am afraid @policescotland may be overstretched tonight. I just read a tweet from someone slagging off the Proclaimers.
— Jamie Foster (@1jamiefoster) December 30, 2014
— (´·?·`) (@_icze4r) December 30, 2014
— Lord Skip VC (@LordSkipVC) December 30, 2014
‘Thanks for calling Police Scotland. All our officers are busy on Twitter right now. If you’re ringing to report a murder, please press 1.’
— Mark Sparrow (@MarkGSparrow) December 30, 2014
Shocking bit of tweet theft. I'd like to make a complaint. @policescotland
— Paulie Gagliano OBE (@belcherdiscuss) January 2, 2015
"@policescotland: Please be aware that we will monitor comments on social media & any offensive comments will be investigated." PISS OFF
— Freddie Cuthbert (@FreddieTheSpurs) January 2, 2015
MT @policescotland Please be aware that we will continue to monitor and investigate offensive comments on social media // 1984 NOT a manual
— Paul (@theimp67) January 2, 2015
— John Moralee (@Wallycorker) January 2, 2015
— Stephen Gash (@Stephen_Gash) January 2, 2015
@policescotland how do you 'investigate' a tweet? Maybe if enough offendotrons sign an online petition you deem it an offence?
— Andy (@onthecouchagain) January 2, 2015
@policescotland thank you for destroying free speech!
— Iballa (@iballa) January 2, 2015