It is, perhaps, a sad but eloquent summary of the age in which we live that in the week of the death of Margaret Thatcher, who whatever you think of her politics, was a prominent figure in the life of anyone over 25 in this country, that a Google search for her name produces as many reports of internet abuse celebrating her death as it does obituaries or tributes.
We find ourselves at a time of unprecedented scrutiny of the press, and ever-raging debate about how it should be regulated.
However, on the other hand, we have users of social media, often, indeed usually, citizens of this country who are subject to its laws, using those services to publish and proliferate things that the established media would never go near.
Whatever you may think of Mrs Thatcher, glorying in anyone’s death is morally reprehensible (and possibly illegal under Malicious Communications Act), but sadly it is only one instance of the on-going abuse of the internet and of social media in particular. For instance, in the past year we have seen the use of Twitter to name the victim of a sexual offence following the conviction of a professional footballer, to flout injunctions made by our Courts, and to speculate as to untrue allegations about a prominent political figure.
It doesn’t stop there of course, and there have been well publicised examples of internet trolls targeting and abusing vulnerable individuals often in the most horrific circumstances.
These matters are usually illegal, but it is very difficult to pin comments to individuals, because the internet service providers are outside of this jurisdiction and it can be legally difficult and expensive to compel the disclosure of the identity of the maker of the statement.
This is an ongoing issue about which Lord Justice Leveson’s report did absolutely nothing. The report mentions the internet almost in passing, as if ignoring the ongoing shift of readership from paper to online, and the enormous proliferation of online news sources.
As we debate how to regulate the established press, and government seeks to implement a scheme for a regulator in almost indecent haste, there are apparently no plans to do anything about the ability of those outside the established press to publish anything they want, including the most hateful things, behind a veil of anonymity on the internet.
As we accelerate towards increased regulation of the press, there is a pressing need to address this issue to curb excesses every bit as bad and often much worse than the practices which led to the Leveson Inquiry.