Social media legal review set to introduce consistency says media law expert

The review of the legal system’s ability to regulate social media misuse by the Crown Prosecution Service will aim to develop consistency a media lawyer has told The Drum.

The review follows reaction to the 12-week jail sentence handed to Matthew Wood after posting comments and jokes about missing school girl April Jones, and the decision not to prosecute a Twitter troll who harassed Olympic Team GB diver Tom Daley.

Sheridans media law expert Keith Ashby, who represented the Press Complaints Commission during the recent inquiry into media ethics, has said that such a review is needed as a result of the current laws being put in place before the rise of social media.

Ashby said that he believed that the review, being led by director of public prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer QC, could lead to the issue of guidelines as to how existing laws apply to social media.

“The way in which people tend to communicate on social media sites is very different to the way people communicate in other mediums, for example, in newspapers and magazines. There is concern that social media shouldn't be regulated too strictly because people react to it in different ways and do not take it quite so seriously as if, perhaps, they had read similar material in a newspaper or magazine. There is also a concern that the freedom of expression of individuals must not be unduly interfered with”

Ashby also highlighted one of the issues which is likely to be addressed in the report awaited from Lord Justice Leveson following his inquiry into media ethics, which also touched on the use of social media and its regulation.

“How do you regulate the internet and how do you ensure that the printed press isn’t disadvantaged or treated in a different way?”

As to what this review will seek to implement, Ashby predicts that it will be aimed at introducing guidelines to ensure consistency in prosecutions for abuse of social media sites.

“One of the objectives of having laws regulating any particular area is that people understand the restrictions which are imposed on them. In order for that to happen, the law has to be clear and consistently applied. There is concern within the DPP department that because the Communications Act, which is the principal Act invoked in order to curb offensive use of social media sites, was passed before the advent of social media, its application now needs to be looked at so that everyone understands how it applies to social media.”

It has been speculated that any new measures resulting from the review could be in place by the end of December.

Sheridans is sponsoring this year’s Social Buzz Awards, taking place in November at the Emirates Stadium in London.

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