Twitter prosecutions 'may fall'

Fewer criminal charges are likely to be brought against people who post offensive messages on Twitter or Facebook, under new guidelines published today by the Crown Prosecution Service.

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Twitter naming of Evans rape victim led to prosecutions

Striker Ched Evans was jailed for five years in April. Credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

A woman raped by former Welsh international footballer Ched Evans was forced to adopt a new identity after she was named thousands of times on Twitter.

Evans, who played for Sheffield United at the time of his conviction, was jailed for five years in April after being found guilty of raping the 19-year-old in a hotel room.

Nine people later admitted in court to naming the victim after the case on Twitter and Facebook and were ordered to each pay her £624.

They pleaded guilty, claiming they were unaware they had committed a criminal offence by naming her. A tenth person denied the charge and was bailed until January 21.


Adele and Gary Barlow were targeted by Twitter trolls

Adele was targeted for hurtful messages amid Twitter congratulations. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Singer Adele's joy at the arrival of her first child in October was soured by Twitter trolls within hours of reports emerging that she had given birth to a son.

The 24-year-old was targeted by abusive messages, including one urging her to "just murder it already". The offending account was later deleted. No action was taken.

X Factor judge Gary Barlow also found himself targeted by trolls after the still birth of his baby daughter in August.

Twitter guidelines come after high profile abuse cases

Tom Daley was not keen to prosecute over the offending tweet. Credit: David Davies/PA Wire

The new Twitter guidelines, published today by the Crown Prosecution Service, come in the wake of a series of high-profile social media abuse cases during 2012.

Footballer Daniel Thomas, who plays for Port Talbot Town FC, was suspended for a game and fined £500 after posting an abusive Twitter message about Olympic diving star Tom Daley.

Mr Thomas, who later apologised, was at one point arrested over the homophobic message.

The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, though, said the tweet was not a criminal offence, despite being offensive, and was not intended to be read by Daley.


Young people abusing online 'may avoid prosecution'

The guidelines also state that children (under-18s) will rarely face criminal charges for offensive tweets or Facebook statuses, for example.

Young people posting Tweets could avoid prosecution under new rules Credit: PA Wire

Also if a message is swiftly deleted, blocked by service providers or websites or shown not to be intended for a wider audience, a prosecution is unlikely.

While intended for the CPS to make a decision whether to charge someone or not, the guidelines are also designed to offer early advice to police.

The interim guidelines take effect immediately and are now subject to a consultation process.

Social media users 'must be safeguarded'

In most cases, once you have put the (new) safeguards in place then a prosecution is unlikely to be the appropriate response. To that extent, therefore, it is to make it less likely that these cases will be prosecuted.

In summary, there is a clear distinction between four types of case: the first three to be robustly prosecuted, the fourth (offensive messages) to be treated very differently.

The fourth one is probably there where the more difficult decisions have been in recent months and certainly where there's been a growth in decisions. There we've put in a double safeguard: high threshold and unlikely to be in the public interest.

It doesn't mean no cases but it certainly puts in that double safeguard before a case is brought.

– Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC
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