New guidelines have been released by the Crown Prosecution Service to help coppers in England and Wales determine whether charges—under part 2, section 44 of the 2007 Serious Crime Act—should be brought against people who use social media to encourage others to harass people.online.
The CPS has been tweaking its guidelines on offensive behaviour on social media sites and the new rules include things like doxxing, where a person’s personal information such as bank details or home address are published online; violence against women and girls such as “baiting”—which labels someone as sexually promiscuous and can include the use of humiliating photoshopped images; and online harassment campaigns that encourage the use of derogatory hashtags.
Director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders said that while social notworking can educate, entertain, and enlighten it can also be used to bullly, intimidate, and harass.
“Ignorance is not a defence and perceived anonymity is not an escape. Those who commit these acts, or encourage others to do the same, can and will be prosecuted.”
Malicious comments posted on sites such as Facebook and Twitter are now routinely reported as causing offence by other users of social media. Prosecutions under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 outlaws messages that are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character.”
In 2015, the Criminal Justice Act strengthened UK legislation under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, giving police more time to investigate the alleged offences. Suspects found guilty of sending “grossly offensive” messages face a prison term of up to six months and/or a fine.