Guidance on cases involving communications sent via social media

On 4 December 2014, the COPFS launched written policy guidance on communications sent via social media, to provide clarity on when such communications will amount to criminal conduct. 

The guidance is published to ensure there is clarity both in terms of their approach and the difference between criminal and non-criminal communications and have stated that they “take these offences as seriously as crimes committed in person. A robust approach is and will continue to be taken in Scotland to communications posted via social media if they are criminal in content, in the same way as such communications uttered or published in the non-virtual world would be handled.”

They will not be prosecuting people for satirical comments, offensive humour or provocative statements and as with any other offence, .."prosecutors may only instigate criminal proceedings where there is sufficient credible and reliable evidence and it is in the public interest to do so-- if it would be illegal to say it on the street, it is illegal to say it online.”

The four main categories of behaviour that prosecutors will distinguish between are:

  • Communications which specifically target an individual or group of individuals in particular communications which are considered to be hate crime, domestic abuse, or stalking.
  • Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence to the person, damage to property or to incite public disorder .
  • Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order or contravene legislation making it a criminal offence to release or publish information relating to proceedings.  
  • Communications which do not fall into categories 1,2 or 3 above but are nonetheless considered to be grossly offensive, indecent or obscene or involve the communication of false information about an individual or group of individuals which results in adverse consequences for that individual or group of individuals.