We’re all rooted if we jail those who speak their minds
On the face of it, there’s not a lot to be said for David McRory and his fellow IT pioneer Josh Turner.
This pair of Gen Y trail-blazer were the brains - if that is the right word - behind “Benders Root Rate”, a page on Facebook which invited Bendigo citizens of that Goldfields metropolis to rate the sexual performance of their partners.
The concept was not an original one. The discussion of the performance of sexual partners is older than the internet age, as anyone who has ever stared at the back of a dunny door could tell you. Indeed some of the graffiti discovered in the ruins Pompeii deals with the subject.
But though the concept behind it was not new, the internet has brought to our fingertips information that once required hours of research to obtain, and no doubt it was this utility, combined with the ethos of the consumer rights movement, that has encouraged us to rate everything from our teachers to our washing machines, that inspired young David and Josh to establish their service.
Either that or they heard there was already a similar webpage for Marysville and they didn’t want Bendigo to be left behind.
From the fat slug-like creature that later stared out from the pages of the Bendigo Advertiser, it is difficult to imagine that Josh himself has any personal sexual experience of anyone except himself to impart to his readers.
In David’s case, it was hard to tell as he kept his face obscured as he exited court in Bendigo on Tuesday after pleading guilty to using a carriage service to offend and publishing offensive material on an information network.
(He also put his hand up for a series of traffic offences and two charges of obtaining property by deception, matters that need not detain us here.)
Where Josh and David have made history, as far as I can tell, is in the sentences they received.
Josh copped six months (wholly suspended) while David was given four, in his case, sadly, not suspended, making them the first social media people to receive prison sentences in Australia for posting offensive things on Facebook.
Not that David is inside yet. Both men are appealing against the severity of their sentences and David is presently on bail.
Now of course rating the root performance in cyberspace or real space is a deeply offensive thing to do: callous, ungallant and - apart from anything else - only capable of giving you only half the story.
And people who engage in such behaviour ought to be shamed and shunned, however useful the people of Bendigo may have found the service (and by all accounts it was popular in certain circles there).
And it was very bad indeed that some of the rooters the page rated were under age - in one case as young as 13.
But as bad as that is, it strikes me that we are entering very murky waters indeed when we look to their authorities to punish people who offend us.
I have no doubt that my view is a minority one and influenced by the fact I am a columnist who offends people for a living. But do we really want to live in a country where we are going to start sending bogans to prison for what they write on their Facebook pages?
I ask this not merely because it seems obvious to me that once we start going down this road there will be no end to the prison building programs needed to hold all the offenders, the internet being a place where people offend and are offensive as a matter of course, but because the idea of punishing people for what they say - unless it puts people in danger - is utterly offensive.
But just as in the case of Andrew Bolt and his accusers last year, the law seems more and more to regard anyone who is upset or offended or hurt by what they read as the victim of a crime, the perpetrator of which should be punished.
And not just in what they read either. The recent passage of laws against bullying would suggest we are heading in a direction that, before too long, will bring us to criminalising saying a harsh word to anyone ever.
The truly depressing thing to me is that no one I have spoken to about the Bendigo Two - as I shall henceforth insist on calling them - seems to share my instinctive sense of outrage that the law is punishing people for what they have written.
If this had happened in America, people would be outraged at an attack on free speech. Freedom of speech being understood in that country to include things we don’t care for.
Of course Benders Root Rate is offensive. But that doesn’t mean its authors should be jailed.
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