Social media update
Defamation Bill: Good news for website operators
The Defamation Bill had its second sitting in the House of Lords committee stage today. It is one of the most controversial and hotly debated bills currently passing through Parliament. However, it is good news for website operators because the Bill creates a new defence against liability for defamatory material posted by users of the website. Contrary to current law, it will apply even if the website operator moderates the material posted by its users.
In this new article, Rhys Griffiths explores the ambit of this new defence and what it will mean for website operators.
CPS guidelines on prosecuting cases involving social media
Following on from Rhys' recent article which explored how the criminal law was trying to get to grips with the phenomenon of social media, the CPS has today published interim guidelines on when prosecutions should be brought against individuals who have posted abhorrent messages on social media websites.
A link to the interim guidelines can be found here. In essence, the guidelines explain that cases which involve communications which are contrary to the laws against messages which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false will be subject to a high threshold and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be appropriate.
The guidelines remind prosecutors that the right to freedom of expression protects not only speech which is well-received and popular, but also speech which is offensive, shocking or disturbing. In a reference to the judgment of Mr Justice Eady in Smith v ADVFN (in which Rhys successfully acted for ADVFN), the guidelines remind prosecutors that context is all important. Comments on the internet are like contributions to a casual conversation in a bar - they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out. Against this background, prosecutors are reminded that cases are only likely to fall foul of the criminal law if the communication in question is more than:
- offensive, shocking or disturbing;
- satirical, iconoclastic or rude comment;
- the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matter, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it.
The interim guidelines come into force immediately, but there has also been launched a wider consultation process which will help the CPS finalise its guidelines on prosecutions involving social media.
Rhys Griffiths is a partner and a member of the Defamation Group at Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP. Please do not hesitate to contact him if you would like to discuss these developments further.