Content Marketing Blog

Social media guidelines in place for British prosecutors

Much of social media is not policed due to the sheer volume of posts every day, and because as a new medium – laws have not caught up with the technology.

But British prosecutors have been provided with guidelines on how to pursue cases that relate to potentially criminal content.

The director of public prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer, told the ABC that this social media strategy highlights the importance of striking a balance between freedom of speech and policing threatening and harassing material.

"The scale of the problem that we're trying to confront here shouldn't be underestimated," he said.

"There are millions of messages sent by social media every day and if only a small percentage of those millions are deemed to be offensive then there's the potential for very many cases coming before our courts."

The DPP added that threats and harassment must be distinguished from offensive, shocking or unpopular posts – the former type of content being subjectable to prosecution.

Determining what is a genuine threat and what is an offensive comment is one such issue that the law is facing. This issue was typified in 2010 when a man by the name of Paul Chambers was arrested and convicted by anti-terrorism police after he tweeted that he was going to blow up an airport.

He made the post after his flight was delayed as a result of Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster being closed. This year, the High Court cleared him of any crime, with his lawyers eventually convincing the powers that be, that the communication was in fact a joke.

David Allen Green, Chambers' lawyer, told the public broadcaster that defining characteristics of the tweet showed it wasn't a legitimate threat.

He highlighted that a serious terrorism post usually doesn't begin with swear words and finish in exclamation marks, and that if these guidelines were in place in 2010, everyone's time would not have been wasted.