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Spain Is Going Orwellian Over Mean Twitter Comments

Over 20 social media users have been arrested recently in Spain for posting comments deemed offensive on social media.
May 20, 2014, 7:00pm
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Isabel Carrasco, a prominent politician in Spain's ruling party, was shot dead in broad daylight last week on her way home in the city of León by a woman who reportedly said she held a grudge over her daughter’s firing.

Shortly after Carrasco’s death, Twitter erupted with insults and derogatory comments against the dead politician. Some of the messages stated that Carrasco should rot in hell. Others referenced party planning in celebration of her death.

Pues yo me alegro de la muerte de Isabel Carrasco, el dia que muera Aguirre monto una fiesta.

— Espumito Entre Rejas (@espumitomcduff)May 12, 2014

Los ciudadanos no consiguieron que Isabel Carrasco se pudriese en la cárcel, pero les queda el consuelo de que ya se está pudriendo en sí.

— Secta Nihilista (@SectaNihilista)May 12, 2014

Although nasty anonymous online comments are by no means a new phenomenon, these have caused a stir in Spain, and the outpouring of vitriol on Twitter has reignited a debate over free speech on social media, and the limits of the Spanish government's censorship on the web.

This debate began with another social media controversy that took place in April, in which Spain’s Civil Guard arrested 21 Twitter users on the charge of “glorifying terrorism in social networks.”

The social media users, two of which were minors, posted messages on Twitter and Facebook mocking the victims killed by the Basque terrorist group ETA. One tweet included a picture of the 1973 assassination of former dictator of Spain Francisco Franco’s successor, Luis Carrero Blanco, with the caption, “I WANT TO FLYYYY.”

Another tweet included a map of the Basque region with “independence” written on it.

Que muestren como prueba de enaltecimiento del terrorismo esto es de las cosas más demenciales que he visto jamás — Javi Del Cueto (@delcue)April 28, 2014

Many in Spain noted that the government’s arrest sweep — dubbed “Operation Spider” — seemed to mistake tasteless online humor with terrorism. If convicted, the Twitter users could face up to two years in prison.

The Spanish Minister of the Interior, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, is one of Spain’s most outspoken advocates for increased regulation and prosecution of people who say offensive things online. In response to the outpouring of hate on Twitter after Carrasco’s death, Diaz called on May 13 for an investigation into whether spreading offensive or derogatory messages on social media could be grounds for criminal prosecution.

"It is evident that being an apologist for a crime while promoting hatred is a conduct that’s punishable under the Penal Code," said Diaz.

José Martínez Olmos, who leads Spain’s ruling party, agreed that there should be greater government regulation on social media. On his personal blog Olmos said, “my outrage at this murder has increased without limit at the waterfall of unworthy heartless comments,” and that such messages “should not go unpunished.”

This would not be the first time this current conservative Spanish government has enacted what many see as Orwellian measures limiting free speech or protest. Spain’s “Citizen’s Security Law” proposes to limit public demonstrations and has been criticized for intentionally cracking down on the anti-austerity protests that have emerged in recent years in response to Spain’s economic crisis. It slaps protesters with fines up to 600,000 euros ($816,000) for “unauthorized street protests.”

This crackdown on public dissent has many nervous that it could be at the expense of democracy in Spain — which up until about 40 years ago was ruled by a fascist dictatorship.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: obecker928

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