People arrested for feeding the homeless… yup, you read that correctly, arrested for showing kindness and generosity to those in need.

To quote the page directly:

Fort Lauderdale police charged three men — including two pastors and a 90-year-old man — for feeding the homeless in public on Sunday, the first such cases made by the city after the a new ordinance effectively banning public food sharings took effect Friday.

The first to be charged was homeless advocate Arnold Abbott, 90, who has been feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale for more than 20 years. Also cited were two Christian ministers — Dwayne Black, pastor of The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale, and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs.

All three men face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

I can imagine the arguments now… ‘oh, by feeding them you’re encouraging them to remain dependent on handouts, they need to learn to look after themselves, etc etc’. Well, it isn’t always that simple, and the opportunity to move out of that situation doesn’t always present itself.

Even that’s beside the point. To actually go as far as to arrest a 90 year-old and two pastors over this seems beyond excessive.

So, just now, as I’m scrolling through Facebook, I come across an article from the Mirror that reported the Twitter user ‘@sweepyface’ (who was involved in a Sky News story about harassment of the McCanns) has been found dead at a hotel. This comes just days after her impromptu appearance on Sky News.

So, once again the question has to be raised about the influence of the media (and social media). Was Sky News justified in putting her face on national television? Whilst I did not agree with her stance, there were far worse examples out there, that I am sure even now skulk behind throwaway usernames, waiting to see who else they can torment.

The irony is, this woman, Brenda, may well have been targeted for abuse by the very people who were sending the most vile tweets to the McCanns.

Or she was targeted, perhaps even more ironically, by people supporting the McCanns.

Once again this highlights the perils of the media – one wrong step, be it on Twitter, or be it a national news channel, we have to remember that with freedom of speech comes the responsibility to use that freedom wisely.

So, this morning, having been watching the news (perhaps not the best thing for me to do), I saw a story about trolls on Twitter harassing the parents of Madeline McCann. Not being one to always know when to keep my mouth shut, I jumped in to offer my own opinion.

The conversation that followed quite eye-opening about my own attitudes to freedom of speech, and where the line is between free speech and hate speech. What is the point where voicing an opinion becomes an act of needless, hurtful aggression?

Some of the trolls on Twitter have spoken of how they’d happily recruit assassins, or burn the McCanns alive… they are grieving parents who have to live with the fact their daughter is probably never going to be found, and they don’t even have the closure of being able to say ‘she’s dead, it hurts, but we can bury her, say our goodbyes and try to move on’. They are suffering, and most certainly do not deserve the hate campaign that’s been going on.

I have a page on my main site about Internet Tough Guys, and the behaviour of a lot of these Twitter trolls certainly fits the bill. The main focus for the conversation I had on Twitter though, was about a Twitter user called @Sweepyface (who has since deleted her account) when she was tracked and interviewed on Sky News. Her tweets are certainly not the worst, but she said to Sky News that she was entitled to attack the McCanns and reportedly used Twitter to spread rumours about their marriage, and said she hopes the McCanns ‘suffer forever’.

I initially was highly critical of @Sweepyface (and to be honest, I still am – she may not have been calling for their heads but she was certainly not acting on anyone’s interests to harass them), but, is what she did to be considered hate speech, or is she merely voicing an opinion?

Well, this is where things get tricky.

The more I think about it (and the more I consider my conversation), it’s hard to argue that @Sweepyface did anything legally wrong. She is, like anyone else, entitled to an opinion, and Lord knows we allow far worse opinions to exist. I do feel that her position is morally untenable though.

I also have to wonder if she would have been so willing to say anything if she wasn’t acting anonymously.

Interestingly enough, I came under a bit of fire shortly after making the point that trolls rely on anonymity that I don’t put my real name with my Twitter posts. As a matter of fact, my real name is represented on Twitter, and just because someone puts a name and picture on Twitter, it doesn’t mean they’re putting their name and picture on there. In the end, we all have to be prepared to offer up a little trust to each other.

I certainly don’t believe we should be abusing the system to harass others.

The more I read of the crisis in Ukraine, the more I don’t like it. Whilst I would like to dismiss the idea of this sliding inexorably to full-scale war between Ukraine and Russia as scare-mongering hysteria, the rhetoric coming out of Ukraine, and the fact that Russian troops are in Ukraine, suggests to me this situation has a very real potential to turn into something very bad.

The big issue is that Russia is violating the sovreignty of another country with a view to undermining a government with pro-Europe ambitions (and Russia has already annexed Crimea, whilst the world stood by and watched). Meanwhile, there are question marks over the elections and riots that led to the current Ukrainian government and its policies.

Where does the line get drawn? How much economic and political pressure can Russia absorb before military action becomes a real option?

If Russia commits to a full-scale war, what hope does Ukraine have of fighting them off without help, and if no one steps in to help, what sort of message does this send to both Russia and Ukraine?

Tough questions, with no easy answers.