Exposing James Bulger’s killer on social media: think before you tweet

Currently doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter are some alleged present day photos of Jon Venables, a man who, as a 10-year-old boy in 1993 along with his friend Robert Thompson, also 10, abducted a two-year-old called James Bulger from a shopping centre in Liverpool before torturing and killing him.

Venables and Thompson were tried as adults and subsequently convicted of Bulger’s murder with minimum terms of eight years for what the judge described as ‘unparalleled evil and barbarity.’  Since then the pair have been relocated and been given new identities.

Fresh rumours circulate in the national papers every now and then of Venables’ whereabouts in particular. Nobody is entirely sure. After all, there is a worldwide injunction preventing anyone from publishing the pair’s identities or location.

But the imposing of the injunction all those years ago could have never accounted for social media coming along and grinning inanely in the face of the legal system. Accompanying the photos of Venables on Facebook, now in his thirties, is the following message:

This is a picture of Jon Venables aka ******** for those of you who didn’t know, he murdered a 2 year old boy, he actually tortured the boy for quite some time before smashing the side of his head in with a brick. The police say that it is illegal for the press to post this picture, this is due to the murders right to a private life??? Thank god for Facebook, I say share this until it ruins his life.”

What I like is how intensely stupid the core principle is behind attempting to expose someone to serious danger without even so much as googling the facts for anything approaching an understanding of why it is so paramount that Venables remains protected from identification.

Apparently, because someone, when they were 10 years old, (something the text fails to make clear) killed an infant, they should, rather than tried by the English legal system (which they were), simply be exposed to the worst kinds of vigilante retribution.

This case was the biggest of storms in the UK press at the time and it was an unspeakable act of evil. What made it worse and that much more incomprehensible was that it was committed by two 10 year-old boys. The very fact it was so horrendous makes clear the person who took part in it should probably never be exposed to society ever again.

The lynch mob was frightening enough back in 1993 when they were pursuing two children outside court and splashing their faces on national newspapers. Now, with their rage barely allayed by frequent media retrospectives and documentaries on the murder ever since it took place, if they were confronted with a man that has been sheltered from the public for years at our expense, a man who has since been convicted of further crimes, and a man that is seemingly incapable of reforming, it would surely not end well.

Apologists who have shared the image and since taken it down have claimed it was done in good faith. As if there could be any good intentions behind attempting to expose someone like this. It’s beyond naivety to think that helping to identify the worst kind of social pariah, for something they did when they were 10, could in anyway help the victim’s families or heal old wounds.

Whether these pictures turn out to be fraudulent is entirely irrelevant: this country’s occasional but frankly worrying blood-lust is only exacerbated by the immediacy of social media: our rashest, stupidest, most thoughtless moments become crystallised forever and we all become braying jackals far too easily when it comes to public outrage. This tweet now, ask questions later approach does nothing more than enable our moments of blind stupid rage and cruel intentions to be broadcast to the world, and some serious mistakes to be made.

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