The UK’s Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) has recently updated its social media guidelines for prosecutors and law enforcement in an effort to aid them in deciding on whether charges can be pressed against internet users based on certain online behaviors.

It was in December of 2012 when the CPS initially issued an interim guideline, which was said to cover the most common offenses committed within social media networks around that time. A final guideline was published within seven months. Two years after, the CPS promised to respond against stalking and credible threats of violence.

The latest changes to the guideline include:

  • Regulations against online activities like doxxing, the publishing of a target’s personally identifiable information like home address and bank details
  • Trolling, the act of deliberately inciting negative reactions or responses from others
  • Virtual mobbing or dog-piling, the act of rallying or inciting others to harass an individual or group (e.g. posting “disturbing or sinister” doctored images online or creating a derogatory hashtag and then encouraging people to retweet or share the image or use the said hashtag)
  • Baiting, the branding of someone as sexually promiscuous to humiliate them

In an interview, Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders has said, “The internet’s not an anonymous place where people can post without any consequences. People should think about their own conduct. If you are grossly abusive to people, if you are bullying or harassing people online, then we will prosecute in the same way as if you did it offline.” Saunders has also added that “Ignorance is not a defence and perceived anonymity is not an escape. Those who commit these acts, or encourage others to do the same, can and will be prosecuted.”

In the case of sexting, the CPS rules that prosecution should not be pursued if the act is between two consenting youths of similar age. However, if the act involves “exploitation, grooming, or bullying”, a responsible party may be prosecuted.

The complete guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communication sent via social media can be read on this CPS page.