In the last year alone, the sunny UK's seen a definite increase in the number of people being prosecuted for posting "grossly offensive" tweets. The Director of Public Prosecutions wants to see some changes though - and the new overriding factor in whether or not you're breaking the law is if you've got friends or not.
The premise here is that someone who tweets something grossly offensive to thousands of people is committing a fairly different act to someone who only has a slack handful of followers, and therefore his messages only reach his inner circle of mates or spam Twitter profiles.
This is all off the back of rather alarming figures regarding the piece of legislation used to prosecute people for "grossly offensive" messages - Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. In the space of just four years, the number of people being prosecuted under that statue has more than doubled, up to 1,286 in 2011. Thus, we're seeing a clarification of the law, in an attempt to bring down the number of "joke" twitter prosecutions.
The issue of "reach" on social media being a determining factor in prosecution decisions is just one being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service. Over the next few weeks, they're planning to issue interim guidelines after a series of no doubt serious meetings with police, publishers and internet firms. (I'm sorry, but I just find the image of a bunch of high-powered lawyers and police officers intesely debating how few followers you have to have to qualify as mateless quite funny.)
I reckon this is a good idea, for two reasons. Firstly, the amount of police and Crown Prosecution Service time taken up with cases like this puts a strain on our already-stretched Criminal Justice System, and this should limit prosecution, generally, to more serious offenders.
Secondly, I think it's a bit excessive that the government can prosecute someone for a joke or remark that's basically just sent out to their mates. For public figures with thousands of followers, it's a different matter -- their opinions reach more people, and generally carry more weight. But ultimately, I think it's a good thing that you can't get clobbered (any more) for the digital equivalent of sharing a bad joke with your mates in the pub. [Telegraph]
Image credit: Policeman from Shutterstock