At midnight, Kier Starmer’s long awaited guidelines on social media offences were published. Guidelines long awaited by the legal profession, the police and no doubt the millions of users of social media.
So, are we any the wiser?
Simple answer, No.
Sadly, Kier Starmer has stopped short of dealing with the real problem that exists in the vast minefield of social media. Granted, as the Director of Public Prosecution, Mr Starmer cannot introduce legislation or change the legislation that already exists: this is something that only Parliament can deal with, but in his role as Director of Public Prosecution, what we were led to believe was that he would provide some clarity on issues surrounding the extent of criminality that attached itself to online comments.
We are told in the new guidelines that prosecutors should exercise discretion and aver away from prosecution when dealing with those that tweet or post a message which may appear to be offensive, but who do so only on the one occasion. Having said this, there is no guidance on how offensive an offensive comment needs to be before even the one comment is deemed suitable for prosecution, leaving this again in the hands of police/prosecutors to ultimately make a subjective choice
There is further comment and guidance which states that there will be greater powers to prosecute and sentence individuals who post comments and have a greater number of followers than those who have a fewer number of followers. This particular finding has completely thrown us here at Pinder Reaux, if I am honest it just illustrates how out of touch Kier Starmer is with the mechanics of social media. So, where does one stand if a comment is made to a select few individuals, which is then re-tweeted to a huge number of people, but without the original tweeter realising that this had taken place or without them actually wanting this to happen (similarities with the Tom Daley Twitter case spring to mind)? And where is the cut off point? If you have 1999 followers, then you are ok, but if you have 2000, then you stand to be prosecuted? There appears to be very little direct guidance on this point.
Recent social media controversies include: