€10,000 fine for Facebook meme that mocked Down’s Syndrome

Court fines Facebook user €10,000 for posting “degenerate” meme, after complaint from former Labour MP and disability rights czar

File photo
File photo

A court slapped a Facebook user with a €10,000 fine for posting a meme that was deemed to mock Downs’ Syndrome sufferers.

Luke Mihalic, 29, from Naxxar, was found guilty by Magistrate Yana Micallef Stafrace on Thursday of the charge of misusing computer and telecommunications equipment in connection with a meme he uploaded to the Facebook group ‘Uncensored Jokes Malta’ in April 2020.

The meme consisted of a photograph of an unidentified person with Down’s Syndrome, and the text: “Website is Down”, “Oooh, me too!”.

Mihalic was reported to the police by then Commissioner for Persons with a Disability, Oliver Scicluna – later co-opted to the House of Representatives as a Labour MP – who said that he had been sent links to the meme post by several people who had been offended by it.

After being called in to the police station, Mihalic had released a statement explaining that he had posted the meme with a humorous, and not hurtful intent. The Facebook group in question accepted jokes about sensitive subjects, “such as religion, sex and everything” and that there were no rules about what could be uploaded, he told the police.

But in her judgement on the matter, Magistrate Micallef Stafrace opined that the fact that it had been posted in such a group “took nothing away from the fact that the degenerate message which the defendant wanted to send.”

She ruled that the defendant had knowingly and intentionally uploaded on social media the meme to ridicule those who suffered from this particular disability, “with the message that people with Down’s Syndrome are inferior and do not have a place in society.”

“By no stretch of the imagination can one say that this is artistic, satirical, comic or cultural expression. The Court considers that this meme is a threat to those persons suffering from Downs Syndrome who are integrated in what is supposedly an inclusive society.”

The defendant escaped being convicted of hate speech because hate speech directed towards the disabled became a criminal offence in December 2021.

Police inspector Roderick Spiteri prosecuted. Lawyer Bernard Busuttil from the Commission for the Rights of People with Disability assisted the prosecution.