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By Pam Cowburn / 19 December 2012

Index on Censorship welcomes the Crown Prosecution Service’s Interim guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media, published today – but warned that a lack of clarity over what is ‘grossly offensive’ could still lead to free speech being chilled.

Index CEO Kirsty Hughes said:
‘Index has challenged the increasing criminalisation of social media in the UK. We welcome these guidelines and hope that they will be used to end the excessive prosecutions that we have seen in recent months. In a plural society that respects free expression, there is no right not to be offended and these guidelines acknowledge that.’

Index particularly welcomes the recommendation that prosecutions against under 18s are “rarely likely to be in the public interest”. However, there are still concerns that the guidelines could be used to encourage internet service providers to take down material that is deemed to be offensive. The guidelines also state that communications that are “grossly offensive” should be dealt with separately.

Hughes commented: ‘It is unclear what is meant by “grossly offensive” and this risks the continuing criminalisation of speech.’

Index has challenged the increasing number of prosecutions for comments made on social media, including the cases of Azhar Ahmed, Matthew Woods and Liam Stacey. We also spoke out on behalf of Paul Chambers, the defendant in the Twitter joke trial.

Index on Censorship is the UK’s leading free speech organisation. For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact Pam Cowburn: [email protected], 07749785932.