Social media offences are becoming more widespread and are likely to continue increasing. It is therefore important to be aware of offences that can arise from the use of social media platforms.
1. Making a threat to kill, s.16 Offences Against the Person Act 1861
- Can be committed through a variety of types of communication, including text message and social media;
- Specific mental element means that the prosecution could not succeed where a threat is not intended to be taken seriously.
- See R v Braithwaite  EWCA Crim 2053
2. Sending letters etc with intent to cause distress or anxiety – s1(1) Malicious Communications Act 1988
Improper use of a public electronic communications network – s127(1) Communications Act 2003
- Section 1 of the 1988 Act – sending a message indecent or grossly offensive, or a threat, where at least one purpose is to cause distress or anxiety;
- Section 127 of the 2003 Act – sending a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.
- A tweet (twitter posting) is a message sent through a public telecommunications network.
- Chambers v D.P.P EWCH 2157 (Admin)
3. Harrassment , s.2 and s.4 Protection from Harassment Act 1997
- 2 or more messages sent via social media could amount to harassment.
- See R v Rumbelow  EWCA Crim 288.
4. Identifying complainants in sexual offences entitled to anonymity, s.5, Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992
- The simple act of re-tweeting or sharing a post could constitute an offence.
5. Contempt of court/breach of court orders
- Court orders can be breached more easily than ever before.
- AG v Davey, AG v Beard EWHC 2317 (Admin)– Jurors were committed for contempt of court for using the internet to post an opinion regarding a defendant and to research a case.
- The widespread use of social media can be both a help and a hindrance to police investigations.
- R v McCullogh  EWCA Crim 1413 – A conviction for robbery and having an offensive weapon was safe where the victim had recognised the accused from photographs on Facebook. Although the Facebook identification was capable of weakening the victim’s subsequent formal identification, the objections to its admissibility went to weight and did not render the Facebook identification inadmissible.