The United Kingdom’s Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send communications over a public electronic network if they are of ‘menacing character’, as we saw in the September Monthly Update with the case of the tweet in jest about blowing up an airport, and also if they are ‘grossly offensive’.
Possibly in the latter category were remarks on Twitter about British Olympic divers Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield made by Daniel Thomas, a semi-professional football player. The tweet was originally sent to the footballer’s friends and family but retweeted to a much larger audience. The Crown Prosecution Service concluded that while the comments were certainly offensive, it was probably not in the public interest to bring criminal charges against Thomas. Rights of free expression must be balanced against the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing; ‘context and circumstances are highly relevant’. Thomas’s tweet was clearly intended to be humorous and for a small group of followers; he did not send it to either Daley or Waterfield directly, and quickly expressed remorse when the whole thing went public. The Director of Public Prosecutions will be developing guidelines to assist prosecutors in determining whether a tweet will warrant criminal prosecution: in his view, ‘the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media’.
[Link available here].