Protecting the trolls: New guidance blocks heavy-handed Twitter police

People posting offensive comments online will be largely protected from prosecution under new guidelines being published by Keir Starmer.

The director for public prosecutions reacted after a series of criminal charges brought against Twitter and Facebook users raised concerns about freedom of speech.

Under the guidance, any social media message which amounts to a credible threat of violence, a targeted campaign of harassment or which breaches court orders will still be robustly prosecuted. That would include 'aggressive trolling', where a sustained series of targeted messages are sent.

But messages which are merely "grossly offensive" will not face prosecution unless they fall above a high threshold.

The new guidance means incidents such as the man who photographed himself burning a poppy would probably not trigger police action.

It would also make prosecutions such as the Twitter joke trial, where a man was charged for joking he would blow up an airport, much less likely.

The guidance puts a high emphasis on context and tone. It also takes into account whether the message is swiftly deleted, blocked by service providers or shown not to be intended for a wide audience.

Any prosecutions must also be shown to be in the public interest and therefore "necessary and proportionate".

The interim guidance comes into force immediately and now goes for consultation.