It has been widely reported that more people have been arrested for making alleged offensive comments on social media sites following the attacks in Woolwich, London this week.
Following complaints from members of the public, a 23-year-old and a 22-year-old, from the Bristol area were held by Avon and Somerset Police on suspicion of inciting racial or religious hatred under the Public Order Act. The men were released on bail, pending further inquiries. At the present time, their identities have not been revealed.
But now further arrests are reported from across the country. In Surrey, a 19 year old has been charged with improper use of the public electronic communications network, in connections with comments posted on social media. Another man has been charged in connection with an offensive message on Facebook and a further is accused of sending an “offensive, indecent or menacing message” online.
Hampshire Police have confirmed a 23 year old had been charged with an offence under the Communications Act in connection with a “grossly offensive” message.
Taking to social media to make comments that are offensive or illegal can have significant repurcussions, not only for the individual making the comments, but across the wider community. Earlier in the week, Emma Way announced that she had been suspended from her job as a trainee accountant and was being investigated by the Norfolk Police following an incident she tweeted about involving a road cyclist.
The urgency of rolling news and immediacyof social media poses a reputational as well as criminal risk for individual users, their families and employers. A common sense approach to social media is always adviseable. Social media users should always pause and reflect before posting a comment. As more stories like this fill the news pages both on and offline, there may be a move towards a shared better understanding of what is acceptable as well as a basic respect for other people’s opinions and beliefs.