A new set of social media guidelines needs to be discussed and set out according to the director of public prosecutions in the UK, Keir Starmer.
Keir Starmer has told the BBC that the policing of social media needs to be discussed to avoid a “chilling effect” on free speech and he added that the right to be able to be offensive “has to be protected”.
Keir Starmer spoke to the BBC following imprisonments for users of social media who have posted offensive remarks.
The latest case involved the jailing of Matthew Wood who was sent to prison in the UK after making comments about the missing child April Jones while Azhar Ahmed was given 240 hours of community service after his post about dead soldiers.
Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies will be invited to sit down with lawyers, academics and members of the Crown Prosecution Service to discuss the future of how to deal with offensive behavior within social media.
The result of the discussions are expected to be revealed to the public before the end of the year.
As social media grows in popularity the amount of investigations into complaints in the UK has risen dramatically and now there are around 50 different cases being investigated each week in the UK.
Keir Starmer told the BBC: “The emerging thinking is that it might be sensible to divide and separate cases where there’s a campaign of harassment or cases where there’s a credible and general threat, and prosecute in those sort of cases.”
He added: “And put in another category communications which are, as it were, merely offensive or grossly offensive.
“It doesn’t mean the second category are ring fenced from prosecution, but it does I think enable us to think of that group in a slightly different way.”
While the judiciary in the UK looks to improving how cases on social media are dealt with it is also being discussed if it would be possible for social media companies to take on some of the burden themselves and enforce better policing of their own social media sites to prevent offensive cases from developing further.
Larger companies may be able to divert resources into policing sites but smaller companies have said that they simply do not have the man power to be able to carry out this work without support from governments.
While Keir Starmer wants to see people prosecuted for certain crimes that take place social media he was keen to enforce to the BBC that he did not want to see the policing of the internet leading to a lack of freedom of speech.
“We live in a democracy, and if free speech is to be protected there has to be a high threshold. People have the right to be offensive, they have the right to be insulting, and that has to be protected.”