December 21, 2012
People who post offensive messages on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter should face criminal charges only if their comments are harassing or threatening and not simply in bad taste, according to new legal guidelines in Britain that follow a spate of controversial prosecutions.
Free-speech advocates here have been alarmed in recent months by a number of incidents in which users of social media have been arrested and jailed for posting messages that others deemed repugnant. A 2003 law authorizes such harsh punishment for “indecent, obscene or menacing” communications sent through a public electronic network.
But the law predates the explosion of such new media as Twitter and Facebook, and some police officials say that having to investigate the increasing number of complaints about offensive online messages is distracting them from more serious work.