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Anti-Social Media and the ‘ASBO’ – The criminal consequence of what we say online

When the old adage ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ was first spouted, no doubt it was envisioned that the manner in which the message was conveyed would be a verbal one. Nowadays, the sentiment is no less sensible when it comes to our conduct on line, yet it is unquestionable that the ability to speak to someone over a virtual platform emboldens us. Abuse is easy to give when we do not have to look the recipient in the eye, and when the comment is made from the safety of our own homes without fear of immediate consequence.

Whilst some criminal offences (such as Harassment) can cover conduct that is performed via a social media platform, thought is being given to ways to further expand provisions to prevent anti-social conduct that takes place on line.

Last year, a new report by the thinktank WebRoots Democracy was published and outlined measures to turn the tide against the “sewer of hate speech and abusive content” found online. ‘The Independent’ reported that one such suggestion would be for online antisocial behaviour orders, where people who persistently abuse politicians would be banned from Twitter or Facebook for a short period and added to an online abuser register. It is not clear whether such measures could also be extended to protect members of the general public – the focus appears to be on a protection of public figures and those who hold public office.

In order to further prevent anti-social and criminal behaviour, specifically relating to knife crime, it seems that thought is now also being given to restricting the social media access of young people in an attempt to steer them away from criminal activity. Although any preventative orders would be civil in nature, any breach of the same could have criminal consequences. It is not yet clear in what circumstances or to what extent the provisions of any order would be implied, however initial suggestions seem to be that such restrictions could range from a block on use of a particular site to limiting an individual’s contact with a specific person.

It is not yet clear what exact measures to further tackle anti-social behaviour online will surface, however it is clear that this is an evolving area in the law which will no doubt only be subject to further regulation in the coming years.

For any assistance and advice with public order or online abuse issues, please contact Catherine Gaynor, a solicitor in the JMW Business Crime and Regulation Team for further assistance.

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