Facebook criticised for encouraging violence

2 October 2013

His Honour Judge Nigel Gilmour was dealing with a case involving 17 year old Daniel Cannon who had got involved in a fight after what was described as 'disgraceful, pathetic and violent' exchanges between his brother and the victim of the offence via Facebook.  Despite the fact that Mr Cannon is under the age of 18 the Judge allowed him to be named in this particular case.   The Judge described Mr Cannon as having had 'a rush of blood to the head' whilst he and the victim were fighting.  He used his teeth 'as a weapon' to bite into the victim's ear tearing away 2cm of flesh which surgeons were not able to re-attach.

However the Judge added that some of the blame for the offence lay with Mr Cannon's brother Paul, who had been engaged in a series of unpleasant exchanges with the victim via Facebook prior to the attack.  The Judge hit out at the exchange on Facebook saying "It is remarkable when people are communicating on Facebook that they say things they would not say face to face.  We are increasingly getting in court instances beginning on Facebook, it is becoming more and more."  The Judge described the series of messages as 'absolutely disgraceful and centred on threats of violence' and went on to say that "I had an opportunity to look at the Facebook [comments] and it can be said that the Defendant's brother is responsible for Daniel Cannon being in the dock.  It would have been appropriate if your brother could be in court today.  It was disgraceful, pathetic, juvenile behaviour – messages some of which were deeply offensive and of a violent nature.   If your mother has not had the opportunity [to read them] then I hope she is given it so she can understand why it is I say a great deal of responsibility for you being in the dock lies at the feet of your brother."

Daniel Cannon pleaded guilty to the offence which was committed when he was 16 and he was spared a custodial sentence, the Judge sentencing him to an 18 month supervision order and 150 hours unpaid work in the community.  He will also have to complete a Victim Empathy and Violent Offender Programme.  The Judge had expressed the view at a previous hearing that there was nothing in Mr Cannon's background to begin to explain why he would behave in the way that he did.

Those of us who practice in the area of criminal law have known for a very long time the dangers of Facebook.  People say things on Facebook that they do not give a great deal of consideration to and forget that this information is accessible to anybody who has access to them on Facebook and also to the police who would be able to obtain legal authority to access their account.  On many occasions people have made unguarded comments on Facebook which have contradicted the evidence that they give by way of statements to police or even contradicting their evidence given in court whether they be a prosecution witness or a Defendant.

However the more toxic nature of the type of communication that Judge Gilmour complains of is not just that people say things by way of Facebook message that they may not say to each other face to face but the fact that as it is something that does not disappear in the heat of the moment like a normal conversation would, it is there saved to be re-read and mulled over fuelling anger and resentment over a period of time.