Brits that push the boundaries of free speech with abusive and illegal comments to Facebook, Twitter and other Internet services could be spared prosecution if they demonstrate that they are sorry for their actions, according to a BBC report.
Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, told the broadcaster’s news site that a set of interim guidelines will see Internet users only prosecuted when comments ‘go beyond being offensive’.
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Starmer confirmed that, to date, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has dealt with 50 cases relating to social media and the guidelines will help clarify the kinds of cases that should be prosecuted. In all cases, however defendants have only faced court once “a rigorous assessment whether it was in the public interest to prosecute” has been conducted, the BBC reports.
This July, Paul Chambers won an appeal against his conviction for tweeting a joke about bombing an airport, and this move from the CPS would appear to be in response to such cases. However, the BBC warns that those that post messages that are threats of violence, related to importing drugs or in breach or court orders, would likely face prosecution. Equally, those that simply retweet or share malicious messages, could see court action.
“The interim guidelines protect the individual from threats or targeted harassment while protecting the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some and painful to those subjected to it,” Starmer said.
Starmer went on to call the initial decision against Chambers, who was backed publicly by Sir Steven Fry, “wrong”.
Web savvy actor Fry went so far as saying that British judges “don’t get Twitter” and, despite the changes, basic common sense still applies when it comes to using social media. If it’s something that you wouldn’t say in a public place, then it probably isn’t a good idea to tweet it or post it to Facebook.
Headline image via Africa Studio / Shutterstock