LONDON Dec 19 The number of proscutions for
posting offensive messages on Facebook and Twitter could fall
under new guidelines that make a distinction between posts that
merely offend and those that make credible threats of violence.
The guidelines were drawn up because prosecutions for social
media communiques have mushroomed in the last few months and the
police have expressed concern about the practicality of dealing
with thousands of offences.
In March a student was jailed for 56 days for posting
racially offensive comments on Twitter about footballer Fabrice
Muamba who collapsed in a match.
But a man convicted for tweeting to his 600 followers that
he would blow up a nearby airport when it closed after heavy
snow won an appeal in July. He had said he was only joking.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said that
communications which amount to credible threats of violence, a
targeted campaign of harassment against an individual or which
breach court orders will be treated differently from those that
are grossly offensive.
He was differentiating between cases where prosecution is
necessary to protect the individual and those in which free
speech is given the priority.
"The first group will be prosecuted robustly whereas the
second group will only be prosecuted if they cross a high
threshold," Starmer added in a statement.
The country's chief prosecutor has been looking to give law
enforcers clear guidance while protecting freedom of expression.
Posting offensive messages on Facebook and Twitter, for
example, will not now be prosecuted if they are quickly removed
and the user apologises.
It will also not be necessary to pursue these suspects if
the communication was not intended for a wide audience.
The guidelines do not change the law and are subject to a
three-month public consultation.
Starmer told the BBC that he would expect social media
communications that make credible threat of violence, harass or
breach court orders to attract significant sentences.
"Social media is not a law free zone. If you are in the
business of issuing threats of harassing others then prosecution
is likely," he said.