Christina Patterson: If you can't tell online life from real, it's time to learn

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The Independent Online

He cried in court. The man who has been charged with kidnapping and murdering April Jones, inset, and also hiding her body, cried on Monday in court. He didn't explain his tears. He didn't say, for example, whether he was crying because he'd done a terrible thing, or whether he was crying because he'd been arrested. Or whether he was crying because a five-year-old girl, who loved her guinea pig, and her friends, and her family, and her life, was dead.

Mark Bridger, who used to spend his days saving people's lives, is the only person who knows whether or not he took little April's life away.

He may, or may not, know exactly what happened to her, and if she's alive or dead. He may, or may not, know where she, or her body, is. If he does, then April's parents, who are stuck in a hell where fear and grief and hope are all mixed up, can only pray that he'll tell.

Matthew Woods didn't cry in court. The man who posted Facebook messages that made jokes about April Jones, and Madeleine McCann, and transit vans, and April Fools, didn't cry on Monday in court.

He didn't say if he had cried when he wrote those messages, after seeing a joke on a website called Sickipedia. He didn't say if he had cried when he made jokes about the missing five-year-old and sex. Matthew Woods didn't say whether he was surprised to be arrested "for his own safety" when about 50 people he didn't know turned up at his home.

He didn't say whether he was surprised that 50 people had read his Facebook posts, and whether, perhaps, that was more people than had ever read his posts before. But he did plead guilty to a crime.

He did, in fact, plead guilty to the charge of "sending a grossly offensive public electronic communication".

Some of us didn't know it was a crime. But according to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, it is. According to this Act, if you send a message that's "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character", it is. And the Crown Prosecution Service, and the magistrates who saw the messages decided that it was. And sentenced Matthew Woods to three months in jail.

Matthew Woods, who's 19, and unemployed, didn't tell the court that he felt lonely and inadequate. He didn't tell them that he was on Facebook because it made him feel, in ways he usually didn't feel, that he was part of a community. He didn't say that what he liked about this community was that you could behave as if other people weren't real. Perhaps they can't tell the difference between a public arena and their head.

If so, it's time they learnt. If these are our new communities, it's time we all learnt.

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