Laws on offensive Twitter & Facebook comments clarified

By John Glenday | Reporter

December 19, 2012 | 2 min read

Long overdue measures to clarify the law on what constitutes an offensive message in online posts has been published by the director of public prosecutions in new set of guidelines for England & Wales.

The move is intended to navigate a path between cracking down on so-called internet trolls and abusers on one side and maintaining freedom of speech on the other.

This will be enacted by only prosecuting people for messages posted on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere who post (or re-post) genuine threats of violence, specifically target an individual or breach a court order.

Anyone engaged merely in "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false" statements in humour or drunken ramblings would be spared.

The interim guidelines go into force immediately and will guide which cases should go to trial.

Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer said: “These interim guidelines are intended to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and the need to uphold the criminal law.

"The interim guidelines thus 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."

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