The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has released interim guidelines outlining regulations for social media in an effort to distinguish what is offensive from what is illegal.
The guidance appears to make it less likely that users of sites such as Twitter and Facebook would face criminal charges for offensive messages posted online.
It follows the efforts of Lord McAlpine, who, with the aid of Bell Pottinger and lawyers, sought to pursue those on Twitter who had spread false allegations that he was a paedophile.
PRCA CEO Francis Ingham welcomed moves to introduce the guidance, which is now awaiting public feedback.
‘Social media is a minefield and governance desperately needs to catch up. These guidelines are a much-needed starting point. The correct use of social media is an important element of good communication for all,’ he said.
Under the new rules, director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer explained that those who persecute individuals, make credible threats of violence or breach court orders will still face charges.
However, Ingham warned the guidelines ‘may need to be toughened up’ in other areas.
He called one area area of guidance, which states prosecution is unlikely to be both necessary and proportionate where an offensive message is ‘taken down very swiftly and there is remorse’, as ‘open to misuse'.
‘In its current state, it could still allow for further unforgivable reputation-harming incidents akin to the accusations made against Lord McAlpine over Twitter,’ added Ingham.
Jane Wilson, CIPR CEO, called the guidelines a ‘common sense approach’.
Welcoming the guidelines, she called them a ‘starting point’ in what is still a ‘learning curve’ around the issue.
'This is something we will have to work through, and these new guidelines throw the new ways in which comms people are having to work into relief,’ she added.