Your alarm goes at 6.45am, what's the first thing that you do? Well, if you're anything like me you reach for your phone and immediately check Facebook and Twitter. Obsessed with social media? Possibly. The vast majority of my friends have an online presence. They tweet, update their statuses and pin to their hearts' content. And so do I. You may have gathered by now that my background is in PR and social media. Living life in an online world fascinates me and I welcome the community that can develop in the digital arena.
But what happens when social media sites become a platform for hatred, racism and abuse? The headlines have been filled with more and more cases of people who have tweeted offensive statements, mainly aimed at those in the public eye. Those sentenced have been convicted under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, which makes it an offence to send a message that is "grossly offensive" using a "public electronic communications network". The Director of Public Prosecutions is now in the process of drafting guidelines on social media cases for prosecutors. Who can forget the horrifying scenes last year as the riots spread around the country? Two men who posted messages on Facebook inciting people to riot in their home towns were both sentenced to four years in prison. More recently, Matthew Woods was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison for making "grossly offensive" remarks about the missing five year-old girl April Jones on his Facebook page. This week you won't have missed the news of football player Ashley Cole's Twitter rant, for which he has been charged with misconduct by the FA.
The online world is a complex one. On the one hand individuals can hide behind their avatar and say what they like, but on the other hand it is a public arena where tweets and status updates are subject to mass scrutiny. If they stand out for being funny, offensive or insightful they can spread like wildfire.
The views around this are commonly split into two camps. There are those that are pro-freedom of speech and believe that people should not be subject to online censorship. There are others who feel the online world should be subject to monitoring and that those crossing lines of decency and offense should be held to account.
These issues have implications for us all and there are grey areas that must be explored. Who decides where the line is crossed? If we censor tweets for causing offence then could this lead to religious suppression? The Gospel is offensive. It is challenging. It won't relent. And nor should it. It concerns me that if we continue to pursue the censorship route where offensive tweets are heavily scrutinised, I may find myself holding back from expressing my faith online lest it offend someone. I have to admit, I don't have the answer. I am all for free speech online and yet also agree that those individuals who actively seek to stir up hate, racism or are "grossly offensive" should be held to account.