CPS to look at online harassment


According to a blog post today from CPS have decided not to prosecute the person for making an offensive tweet, with regards to a communication on twitter in relation to Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield.

One thing that I found interesting is this paragraph:

The Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send a communication using a public electronic communications network if that communication is “grossly offensive”. It is now established that posting comments via Twitter constitutes sending a message by means of a public electronic communications network. It is also clear that the offence is committed once the message is sent, irrespective of whether it is received by any intended recipient or anyone else.

However they are going to provide guidelines and how to deal with online abuse. They state:

The recent increase in the use of social media has been profound. It is estimated that on Twitter alone there are 340 million messages sent daily. And the context in which this interactive social media dialogue takes place is quite different to the context in which other communications take place. Access to social media is ubiquitous and instantaneous. Banter, jokes and offensive comment are commonplace and often spontaneous. Communications intended for a few may reach millions.

Against that background, the CPS has the task of balancing the fundamental right of free speech and the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing on a case by case basis. That often involves very difficult judgment calls and, in the largely unchartered territory of social media, the CPS is proceeding on a case by case basis. In some cases it is clear that a criminal prosecution is the appropriate response to conduct which is complained about, for example where there is a sustained campaign of harassment of an individual, where court orders are flouted or where grossly offensive or threatening remarks are made and maintained. But in many other cases a criminal prosecution will not be the appropriate response. If the fundamental right to free speech is to be respected, the threshold for criminal prosecution has to be a high one and a prosecution has to be required in the public interest.

To ensure that CPS decision-making in these difficult cases is clear and consistent, I intend to issue guidelines on social media cases for prosecutors. These will assist them in deciding whether criminal charges should be brought in the cases that arise for their consideration. In the first instance, the CPS will draft interim guidelines. There will then be a wide public consultation before final guidelines are published. As part of that process, I intend to hold a series of roundtable meetings with campaigners, media lawyers, academics, social media experts and law enforcement bodies to ensure that the guidelines are as fully informed as possible.

But this is not just a matter for prosecutors. Social media is a new and emerging phenomenon raising difficult issues of principle, which have to be confronted not only by prosecutors but also by others including the police, the courts and service providers. The fact that offensive remarks may not warrant a full criminal prosecution does not necessarily mean that no action should be taken. In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media.”

This is a huge step forward in the battle against online bullying.. It is a small step as it will only be enforceable within the confines of England and Wales, but I can see this being an international enforcement before long.

Free speech is one thing, abuse is another.

Should anybody be suffering from online abuse on Twitter, they can report the abusive user to Twitter on this link https://support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser.

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