The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has today issued interim guidelines for prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media [PDF].
The guidance was issued in response to a number of arrests and convictions this year of individuals for ‘offensive’ messages posted to Twitter and Facebook. English PEN and other campaigning groups have raised concerns that prosecutions for messages deemed ‘offensive’ are an unnecessary infringement on the right to free expression.
The interim guidelines say that where messages include credible threats of violence, target a specific individual, or breach a court order, they should be “prosecuted robustly” by the Crown Prosecution Service. However, there should be “a high threshold” for social media messages that are considered grossly offensive, in order to ensure the right to free speech is not curtailed.
The guidelines form the basis of a public consultation, to which English PEN will respond.
In July, the Olympic diver Tom Daley recieved abuse via Twitter, leading to an arrest of a teenager in Plymouth. Our Head of Campaigns & Communications Robert Sharp wrote a piece for the New Statesman, discussing some of the issues raised by such cases.