The UK Government has pledged to look at current laws governing social media use, with a view to possibly introducing fresh legislation to cover the field.
The Government has said that new rules are being considered in an effort to balance the need for free speech with the desire to tackle harassing or threatening communications.
The move follows a series of recent prosecutions centred around social media activity – together with reported comments to the BBC from some police forces that trivial online disputes were taking up a disproportion amount of their time and resources.
Taking the lead in the review will be the Crown Prosecution Service, together with input from executives employed by social media companies including – it is expected – Facebook and Twitter.
Commenting on the review, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said:
“The emerging thinking is that it might be sensible to divide and separate cases where there’s a campaign of harassment [or] cases where there’s a credible and general threat , and prosecute in those sorts of cases. And put in another category communications which are, as it were, merely offensive or grossly offensive. The threshold for prosecution has to be high. We live in a democracy, and if free speech is to be protected there has to be a high threshold.”
A parallel possibility under discussion is to demand that social media sites improve their own internal policing so that communications likely to cause offence are quickly removed.
New guidelines are expected to be introduced by the end of this year.