Offensive or controversial messages posted to social networks might not lead to prosecution if users show a little remorse, the U.K.'s Crown Prosecution Service said today.
In a 14-page guide (PDF) published today on prosecuting cases related to social-media use, the CPS said that while some posters might publish "grossly offensive, obscene, or false" information on Twitter or Facebook that they could be prosecuted for, they can escape such issues if they quickly remove it from the site.
"If a message is taken down very swiftly and there is remorse, then it may not be proportionate to have a criminal prosecution," Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, said today in an interview with the Guardian. "It is not a defense that you have sobered up, but it is relevant that whatever the material was, it was taken down pretty quickly when the person realized it was inappropriate."
Though the CPS might show leniency in some cases, Starmer made clear that his office will "robustly prosecute" those who post messages that can be considered "credible threats" or "harassment."
So, why is the CPS releasing its guidelines and showing at least some leniency? According to the Guardian, the office has been hit hard with social-media-related allegations, and has taken on 60 cases in the last 18 months. Many of those might have proved unnecessary.
"There is a high threshold that must be met before criminal proceedings are brought, and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest," Starmer told the Guardian.
Although the CPS' guidelines apply only to those living in the U.K., its actions underscore a growing issue on the Web -- what should and shouldn't be taken seriously when people post potentially troubling messages to their news feeds. As the CPS notes, a supposedly serious posting at night might be called a joke the next morning. In at least some cases, such scenarios in the U.K. will end there.
The CPS guidelines go into effect today.