David Banks: How do you prosecute a Twittermob?

What if, instead of 40 people accused of breaking the law, it is 400, or 4,000?

Share
Related Topics

The Attorney General is in a bit of a bind. Dominic Grieve will shortly have to decide whether to authorise the prosecution of those alleged to have identified the victim of Ched Evans, a footballer jailed for rape last week. If he decides the prosecution will go ahead, then once again the criminal law will be entering the realm of social media.

A number of people on Twitter named the victim, contrary to the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992. North Wales Police, which is investigating, announced yesterday that they would be making arrests of Twitter users. But those who will be watching Grieve's decision with particular interest are the traditional media who have broken this law in the past. The law in this area is quite tough, because it is believed victims are often deterred from coming forward by a fear of being identified. Newspapers have been prosecuted even for publishing identifying details, for instance, a photograph of a soldier, which, although pixellated, included the rank pips on her uniform; the fact that a victim had cerebral palsy; that the offence took place in a shower – showing the victim lived with the offender.

All the above were clumsy, accidental identifications. The newspapers had no intent to identify, they simply were not careful enough. Those editors who have personally been charged, along with their titles, will be very interested to see whether an allegedly deliberate identification on Twitter will attract similar prosecution.

If Grieve does not give the go-ahead for a prosecution – and that depends on whether North Wales Police and the local Crown prosecutors send him a file – then it sends a message that there is one law for old media and no law for the new. He has in the past warned bloggers and tweeters that they are bound by the Contempt of Court Act just like their mainstream media counterparts. If he does go ahead with prosecution however, it raises the spectre of much more complicated decisions in future. What if instead of 40 people accused of breaking the law it is 400, or 4,000? The scale of potential prosecutions as a result of unwise tweeting is huge. And while few may argue against prosecution in this instance, what of a greyer area? What if the Tweetmob breaches a superinjunction and names a company accused of pollution – as happened in the case of Trafigura? No prosecutions there, as the "guilty" numbered in thousands. What of the "I am Spartacus" tweeters who repeated the phrase used by Paul Chambers, which resulted in his conviction in the Twitterjoke trial? Again, no action by the CPS.

In my view, Grieve has little choice but to allow the prosecutions to go ahead. What message will it send to the victims of sexual offences if he does not? But in doing so he will have made a rod for his own back and many people will have to be more careful about what they tweet.

The writer is a journalist and media law consultant

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A woman runs down the street  

Should wolf-whistling be reported to the Police? If you're Poppy Smart, then yes

Jane Merrick
 

Voices in Danger: How can we prevent journalists from being sexually assaulted in conflict zones?

Heather Blake
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?