Legal rethink following offensive Daley Tweet

An offensive Twitter message received by Team GB diver Tom Daley has prompted a rethink of social media rules on abuse by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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Daley received the homophobic message – referring to him and fellow Olympic diver Peter Waterfield – on his Twitter page from suspended Port Talbot Town FC midfielder Daniel Thomas, 28, after coming fourth in the Olympic synchronised 10m platform dive. Thomas was arrested over malicious communications, but subsequently released without charge as the message was deemed not to be "grossly offensive".

Keir Starmer QC , the most senior prosecutor in England and Wales, said that the new rules would help to ensure that "decision-making in these difficult cases is clear and consistent. The fact that offensive remarks may not warrant a full criminal prosecution does not necessarily mean that no action should be taken. Mr Starmer went on to say that new guidelines were required because "there are likely to be many more incidents – the recent increase in the use of social media has been profound".

Estimates suggest there are 340 million messages posted each day on Twitter – where "banter, jokes and offensive comment are commonplace and often spontaneous", he said. "Social media is a new and emerging phenomenon raising difficult issues of principle, which have to be confronted not only by prosecutors, but also by others including the police, the courts and service providers. In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media." Speaking on BBC Radio 4's PM programme, he also announced that "a wide public consultation" would take place before final guidelines were published.

However, he added that the threshold for prosecution should be high: "Free speech is fundamental, it's very important it's respected and therefore a criminal prosecution should be reserved for cases that cross a high threshold and the law requires it to be grossly offensive."

Under the Communications Act 2003, it is an offence to send a communication using a public electronic communications network if that communication is "grossly offensive".

Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel has recently quit Twitter after racist messages and other abuse was sent to him on the social network.

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