The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) today has released a document outlining guidelines for dealing with potentially aggressive, or offensive posts on social media sites. The document urges judges to factor in context, public interest and even whether the post could be seen as “banter”.
This document has evolved since the recent cases such as “#twitterjoketrial,” where Paul Chambers was convicted for tweeting “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!”. After widespread campaigning, and the support of comedians Stephen Fry and Al Murray, the conviction was overturned after a high court appeal.
Further references are made to a court case from 2008 where the judge, Sir David Eady said “[tweets are] like contributions to a casual conversation (the analogy sometimes being drawn with people chatting in a bar) which people simply note before moving on. They are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out. Those who participate know this and expect a certain amount of repartee or ‘give and take’.”
This takes into account the subtle difference between the 'publishing' of articles and blog posts and the less thought out Tweets or Facebook status'. The document also takes on the controversial topic of the definition of what is “offensive”.
A communication sent has to be more than simply offensive to be contrary to the criminal law. Just because the content expressed in the communication is in bad taste, controversial or unpopular, and may cause offence to individuals or a specific community, this is not in itself sufficient reason to engage the criminal law.
Legal jargon aside this document makes it much harder to prosecute individuals for tweets and posts that though stupid also were harmless. It will just be a matter of time before we see whether this course of action will protect you from your drunken tweeting last night or protect genuine bigots from repercussions.