Delete tweet – and it may keep you out of court

Twitter: Swift deletion may save users court appearance. Picture: PA
Twitter: Swift deletion may save users court appearance. Picture: PA
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Swiftly deleting abusive tweets may save offenders from being brought before court, the director of public prosecutions has said.

Keir Starmer said it was “relevant” for police to consider whether an offending tweet had been quickly deleted from the micro-blogging site.

He said he was holding a three-month consultation about the plan. Libellous tweets, or messages which broke court
orders or were threatening, would still face prosecution
regardless, he added.

Mr Starmer said: “There’s a lot of stuff out there that is highly offensive that is put out on a spontaneous basis that is quite often taken down pretty quickly, and the view is that those sort of remarks don’t necessarily need to be prosecuted.”

“I think if there are too many investigations and too many cases coming to court, then that can have a chilling effect for free speech.

“This is about trying to get the balance right, making sure time and resources are spent on cases that really do need to go to court and not spent on cases which people might think really would be better dealt with by a swift apology and removal of the offending tweet.

But he said Twitter was not a place where people could “go and say what they like” without thinking of the circumstances.

About 650 people were charged in England and Walesin 2012 for offences on social media sites. Offences ranged from harassment to stalking and grooming, as well as racial abuse.

Mr Starmer hopes his guidelines will reduce the number of cases where jokes have been misplaced or someone has not obviously committed a crime going before the courts.

His comments follow a number of high-profile investigations which have later been overturned.