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Lords reject calls for social networking laws

Lords reject calls for social networking laws

The House of Lords, with input from Twitter and Facebook, has rejected calls for new laws to be drafted specifically to deal with abuse carried out over social networking channels.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications has rejected calls for new laws to deal with crimes carried out on social media channels, claiming existing laws are robust enough to be dragged into the 21st century.

In its official report (PDF and strong language warning), the Committee reveals its findings into an investigation as to whether current laws are sufficient for dealing with hate crimes, abuse, harassment, verbal assault and defamation when carried out over social networking services. With representatives from Twitter, Facebook, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and free expression group Article 19, the conclusion was clear: 'the criminal law in this area, almost entirely enacted before the invention of social media, is generally appropriate for the prosecution of offences committed using social media.'

The Committee used as its investigatory corpus a range of real-world examples of abuse received over Twitter, ranging from name-calling and defamatory statements to the case of the Twitter Joke Trial in which Paul Chambers was accused of terrorist activity for posting a comment taken to be a threat that he would be 'blowing the airport sky high.'

'The vast majority of people who use the social media are like society. The vast majority are decent, intelligent, inspiring people,' John Cooper QC told the Committee during its deliberations. 'The problem comes with a small minority, as in society, who spoil it for everyone else.' While admitting that there are 'aspects of the current statue law which might appropriately be adjusted and certain gaps which might be filled,' the Committee's report indicates that 'we are not however persuaded that it is necessary to create a new set of offences specifically for acts committed using the social media and other information technology.'

The Committee has also rejected calls for the existing laws to be tightened in order to remove overlap between them, stating that 'we have not been persuaded that it is always desirable to remove overlaps: we understand that overlaps commonly occur in the criminal law and are usually necessary to provide for different circumstances.'

The Government is not expected to comment on the report.

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