With the Director of Public Prosecutions consultation on prosecutions involving social media communications (Facebook, Twitter etc. to you and me) ending on March 13th I thought it might be useful to go over what the current guidance says and have a look at how to avoid being arrested when you’re online.
Why, you may ask, do I need to read this article, I am a sensible intelligent person who would never do anything that could get me in trouble. Well that may be true, but news stories about people posting an alleged picture of John Venables on Twitter and the like are never far from the news. So maybe people aren’t as intelligent as they think, either that or we should all fit breathalysers to our keyboards (which actually isn’t a bad idea). Anyway it’s good to know what’s ok and what could get you in trouble so I’m going to carry on hoping you haven’t given up on me yet.
Essentially at the moment offences that the CPS consider fall within 4 categories:
1. Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence
2. Communications which may constitute harassment or stalking
3. Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order
4. Communications which do not fall into any of the above categories and fall to be considered separately i.e. those which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.
Now if you post something which falls within the first three categories, or is even likely to, you deserve all you get. Its pretty straightforward what comes under those categories and you’re asking for trouble if you do. The difficulty comes in the fours category, specifically in defining what exactly is ‘grossly offensive’. This of course has problems with subjectivity and balancing a persons right to free speech with the rights of others.
Well luckily for everyone who likes to post this sort of thing online there is a high threshold you have to pass before a prosecution is justified. Your post must be more than disturbing, offensive, rude, unpopular, distasteful and any other word you can think of to describe risky comments. A prosecution also has to be in the public interest so if you take your comment down quickly, show remorse, if it was meant to be private etc then you will probably be ok.
So what does this all mean? Well my way of looking at it is like this. Imagine, before you post something, that the internet is a room full of people who aren’t really paying attention, talking amongst themselves and generally being a bit ignorant. You then have to get up on stage and say your comment through a microphone in front of all these people. If what you’re going to say is going to make these people recoil in horror then maybe its not a good idea to post it. If you find all this a bit difficult to grasp then just follow one simple principle, don’t be a moron, idiot, dingbat or any other expression of someone who hasn’t quite thought through their actions. If you don’t follow this then don’t come crying to me.
I should say on one final note that my information is all from the CPS website which can be found here, so if you want you can check out the guidance for yourself.
By Jack Troup