Tweet carefully….

This weekend the Director of Public Prosecution, Keir Starmer QC and myself were interviewed on Sky News about the proposed guidelines that are supposed to define a little more clearly, what activities on social media would constitute a criminal offence and what would not. The DPP stated that where there was a sustained attack using social media, which was grossly offensive, there was likely to be an investigation and arrests could follow. However, for one off comments, that are often made in the heat of the moment, which are then taken down, prosecution would be far less likely.

Much has been made of these guidelines. Are they useful? Will they help? In my opinion they are simply dictating what the common sense approach to social media should be. The only real reason that they have been brought in, is not to clarify matters for the general public, but to hopefully clarify matters to the prosecution. In the last year or so, there have been several arrests for offences committed on social media, but then there have been many others that have not. This disparity in the prosecution’s approach to ‘offences’, is what has really led to the formation of these guidelines.

Whether or not an offence has been committed will very much depend on the context in which a comment or tweet has been made – so it is possible to post something, take it down the next day and avoid being in trouble (obviously, this will not be the case, if you have a habit of posting abusive messages to the same person and then taking them down shortly after).

But what you have to bear in mind is that the DPP’s proposed guidelines only deal with criminal offences. If you tweet or comment something that is considered defamatory against someone that has money – beware: the civil court system can still come after you.

On Monday, Peter Cruddas the former Conservative Party co-treasurer won £45,000 in libel damages plus costs from Mark Adams, a former secretary to Tony Blair, who Cruddas claimed had embarked on a “persistent and public campaign” against him on Twitter and other blogs. He had sued Adams over nine blogspots and twelve tweets, in which allegations were made that Cruddas was a criminal who had sought to secure an illegal donation for the Conservative party. In his judgment at the High Court on Monday, Mr Justice Eady stated that Adams’ claims and comments were false and that they “would indeed go to the core of Mr Cruddas’ professional reputation and personal integrity.”

So, you see, whilst the DPP may have got your back – if you tweet against the wrong person, you can still get caught by the libel net in the civil justice system.

Rupinder Bains
Managing Director
Pinder Reaux & Associates.


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