The Prime Minister has indicated that the Law Commission will review legislation “to ensure that the criminal law, which was drafted long before the creation of social media platforms, is appropriate to meet the challenges posed by this new technology”. A new “social media code of practice”, providing guidelines for content and conduct and how companies report abuse is also proposed.
The Metropolitan Police are to set up a two-year pilot scheme involving five officers and a team of volunteers to identify online abuse and support victims. Based in London, the team will filter and identify online hate crimes (hostile offences aggravated by reason of the victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity) and allocate cases to the appropriate local force.
Brett Wilson LLP partner Iain Wilson has been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Drive Time show. Mr Wilson was asked to take part in the show to provide an expert’s view on the law relating to offensive and threatening tweets.
Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, and Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper have both called for a review of the law governing online harassment, stalking and abuse to prevent inconsistent enforcement and to encourage those affected to report the crime.
Brett Wilson LLP partner Iain Wilson features in the latest edition of the UK’s biggest student newspaper The Tab in an article by Bob Palmer on how the internet can turn against you. A copy of the article can be found here.
The Ministry of Justice has published figures relating to offences involving the posting of offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing messages. The figures show 1,209 individuals were convicted in 2014, up from 143 a decade previously. 155 of the 1,209 were imprisoned. An additional 685 individuals were cautioned under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 last year.
The eagerly anticipated case of Hegglin v Person(s) Unknown and Google Inc has settled the day before it was due to come to trial (24 November 2014). Mr Hegglin, a former Morgan Stanley banker, had issued proceedings following a sustained campaign of internet abuse against him by an anonymous troll.
The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications has concluded that the criminal law is “generally appropriate” and sufficient for the prosecution of offences committed using social media and no further legislation is required.
The number of criminal allegations made to the police for the misuse of Facebook and Twitter has increased from 556 in 2008 to 4,908 in 2012. Commenting on the statistics, Andy Trotter of the Association of Chief Police Officers acknowledged that the figures demonstrated a new challenge for the police. It was recognised that offences involving social media, such as harassment or genuine threats of violence could cause real harm. However, Mr Trotter also stressed that it was important that criminal allegations were properly prioritised and freedom of expression was not curbed: “It is a new world for all and we could end up in a situation where each constabulary needs a dedicated Twitter squad. In my opinion, that would not be a good use of resources in difficult financial times. We need to accept that people have the right to communicate, even to communicate in an obnoxious or disagreeable way, and there is no desire on the part of the police to get involved in that judgement.”