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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Easter message

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Victoria Richards
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit