Nearly everyone uses social media, and for most people it’s a great way to keep in touch with friends and find out what your favourite celebrities and brands are up to. However, a minority of people get into trouble every year over their use of social media. In serious cases, this could result in prosecution and a criminal record. Are you risking your police record with your Twitter or Instagram posts?
What’s Against the Law?
It’s probably fair to say that the law has been slow to keep pace with developments in social media. That doesn’t mean though that the internet is some sort of lawless place where you can say and post what you like without consequence. The legislation which governs what we write online is the Malicious Communications Act of 1988. Although this law predates Twitter and the other social media platforms, it can still be used to prosecute people who send messages which fall into the category of being:
- A threat
- Grossly offensive
- False and known to be false by the person who posted
Obviously, the police don’t have the time or the resources to prosecute everyone who passes on untrue gossip over social media, or who makes threats. But there have been several cases involving the prosecution of internet “trolls” who hide behind online personas to bully people they know, and people who have targeted public figures with threats or harassment.
Punishment and Convictions
The maximum sentence for a prosecution under the Malicious Communications Act is up to 2 years in prison. Depending on the content of the tweets or posts, there may be other offences under hate speech legislation or similar. Although prison is the ultimate sanction for people sending out offensive or threatening tweets, often the courts deal with the offence with a fine or community payback.
DBS Checks and Convictions
The other main implication of being prosecuted for this type of offence is that it may follow you to your next job on a DBS check. There are three different levels of DBS check and the type of information disclosed at each level varies. If you’re asking for a basic check, the DBS will only disclose current, and unspent convictions. Depending on your age and the punishment handed down by court, the offence of sending an offensive tweet could drop off your record in as little as six months.
If you need a standard or enhanced check, the prosecution could stick around a lot longer. This is because the DBS will disclose older convictions if they feel they are relevant. Will they disclose offensive communications? Well, that all depends on the content of the tweets and the job under consideration. It also may take some explaining to an employer, especially one who is not particularly up to speed with social media etiquette. As with any type of criminal conviction, the best approach is to tell your prospective employer at the early stages of your application, and be able to demonstrate how you’re now a reformed character.