The UK has announced new guidelines that could see less social media users prosecuted under the country's abusive speech laws. Director of public prosecutions Kier Starmer, in comments reported by the Guardian, said that authorities should take "considerable caution" not to impact free speech by bringing unnecessary charges. While the Crown Prosecution Service is keeping the door open in cases that could be seen as serious harassment or credible threats of violence, situations where the perpetrator immediately shows remorse, for example, are likely to be handled with a lighter touch.

"If a message is taken down very swiftly and there is remorse then it may not be proportionate to have a criminal prosecution. It is not a defense that you have sobered up but it is relevant that whatever the material was, it was taken down pretty quickly when the person realised it was inappropriate."

The UK has handled a number of controversial cases dealing with social media users that have posted inflammatory content. A student was jailed for drunkenly posting racist abuse on Twitter following the televised collapse of a black soccer player, for example, and one man went through a two-year prosecution ordeal after jokingly tweeting that he would blow up an airport that closed due to bad weather. Another was arrested for posting a picture of a burning poppy on Facebook.

It seems less likely that such cases will be brought in the future, however, with Starmer saying that "there is a high threshold that must be met before criminal proceedings are brought and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest." The guidelines go into force from Wednesday.