The arrest of a teenager by police investigating abuse of Olympic diving star Tom Daley on Twitter has led to calls for a new initiative…Hurrah! A good, hard look at the law and a repealing of those parts that leads to such nonsense, I hope.
… educating the public about the ease with which a tweet can end with a jail sentence.I…
Atalie Matthews, an associate at Bindmans, a law firm specialising in human rights law, said mobile phone companies should provide advice to schools and shops and make children and adults aware of the serious consequences that can flow from sending abusive messages, including jail sentences and hefty fines.
"I think mobile phone companies should give out more advice when people buy phones, because let's face it, most children live online these days. These companies make unbelievable amounts of money and they should take the initiative and help educate everyone," she said.Where to start?
Firstly, rather than warn everyone about the potential for being arrested under a nonsensical law, how about we change the nonsensical law?
Secondly, aren’t you forgetting something, sweetie? Twitter isn’t a phone-only system. Are you going to demand Dell, Apple and all other computer manufacturers address this too?
I shouldn’t joke. You probably are:
Matthews added that the onus should be on Vodafone, O2 and others to put notices up in shops and have information leaflets in phone packs about what is legal and what is illegal to say in a tweet.That’s going to be one huuuuuuuuuge information pack, if it has to cover all of that!
So, what are the laws we are talking about?
… section 127 of the Communications Act, 2003, which is now being seen as a catch-all for all internet commentary. It prohibits messages or other matter sent by means of "public electronic communications network" that are of a "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".
Offences may also be committed under the Malicious Communications Act of 1988, which was originally designed to combat "poison pen" letters, and the Public Order Act 1986, which covers offences committed on a mobile phone while on the street, according to lawyers.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could also be invoked after just two abusive messages.If you’re thinking that none of these are post-Twitter, you’d be right.
Dr Evan Harris, the former Liberal Democrat MP, who successfully campaigned to have the Blasphemy Act abolished and has been subject to his own fair share of trolling, said that the public and Twitter have responsibilities too.
"It's not necessarily in the public interest to prosecute every case of a tweet that contains an ingredient that may breach the Malicious Communications Act. What we don't want is to get people in the habit of going to the police for something that is a non-credible threat like Paul Chambers' tweet," Harris added. He said the onus is on Twitter users to block followers, not to retweeet abuse and report offences.
But, he added, this has to be coupled with Twitter improving its reporting systems. "They should remove people who are racist and abusive...
It is in Twitter's interests not to have the police involved," he said.It’s in ALL our interests, actually.