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Prosecutor seeks sports-bodies guidance on troll-hunting rulebook

Ropes in athletes in quest to end trial by Stephen Fry

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The views of sports men and women about social media trolling cases are being sought by the director of public prosecutions.

Keir Starmer said late last week that he wanted to extend the consultation process he announced in September to include comments from the Football Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the British Olympic Association and the Rugby Football Union.

The move comes after a number of high-profile stories involving the likes of Olympic bronze medalist diver Tom Daley scored plenty of column inches in national and local newspapers.

Starmer plans to draw up guidelines for prosecutors in social media troll cases and has also implied that the likes of Twitter and Facebook could be subjected to regulation to help prevent verbal flare-ups taking place online, before landing in court.

The top prosecutor has already had confabs with academics, media lawyers, police, journalists and bloggers about people posting abusive or otherwise potentially illegal remarks on websites.

A number of cases have led to prison terms with judges upholding criminal charges brought against individuals by the police who have begun to regularly cite the section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 at suspects accused of posting what they allege to be "grossly offensive" remarks online.

Many argue that the system has got out of hand and that the Crown Prosecution Service needs to reel in cops who are busily collaring trolls more or less at random - in the normal course of things there are thousands of trolling cases daily which could theoretically mean an arrest but which actually go unremarked. In fact the authorities are usually responding to public pressure from media or social media (the involvement or non-involvement of Stephen Fry can have a powerful effect on the eventual outcome), or in some cases from angry mobs.

This is the problem the CPS are trying to solve: to move the troll-busting decision making process out of the hands of Stephen Fry and online (or real world) flashmobs, and subject it to some rules.

Starmer said:

It has not gone unnoticed that the use of social media among those involved in and following sport is becoming more and more prevalent and a number of recent high-profile criminal cases have involved sports personalities.

It is important that our draft guidelines on prosecuting cases involving social media are as fully informed as possible, which is why I have decided to hold a sixth meeting with sports organisations to seek their views on the issue.

One of the points already discussed during the meetings held so far has been that of racism on social media. We know that a number of sports associations undertake significant work to tackle racism within their respective sports and I look forward to listening to the expertise of those invited on this and the other points for discussion.

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