Legality, Social Media and the Criminal Law


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Social media has changed how society communicates, transformed how individuals access the latest headline news and has altered many aspects of everyday life. It has, in turn changed the way in which individuals can target other members of society. In recent years, society has seen the likes of Facebook and Twitter used to distribute hate speech, accommodate revenge pornography and abuse others online. Consequently, the Government and the criminal justice system are being put under increasing pressure to tackle online abuse. Many of the current legal provisions contained in the law of England and Wales were enacted before the creation of social media. Yet these Acts are used to prosecute those who conduct abusive behaviour online. Issues are therefore arising with the adaptation of Acts of Parliament never intended to cover a digital age.

This thesis will critically examine several Acts of Parliament which have been used to control unlawful behaviour on social media sites, including, though not limited to, the Public Order Act 1986, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. It will be argued that the current use of these Acts breaches the fundamental principle of legality in the criminal law, before turning to examine freedom of speech and privacy online. Legality, at its very basic means the law needs to be accessible and clear to maintain the rule of law.

The final parts of this thesis will examine how other countries and institutions govern online behaviour. In the conclusive chapters, recommendations will be put forward as to how the legal system and society can better protect those who are abused online, including a draft social media Bill and a proposed universal code of conduct.
Date of Award15 Apr 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorFRANCO RIZZUTO (Director of Studies) & ADAM PENDLEBURY (Supervisor)


  • social media
  • Online abuse
  • Legality
  • Criminal Law
  • grossly offensive

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