The Director of Public Prosecution Kier Starmer has announced a review into the law governing the use of social media in the light of a number of high-profile prosecutions and lengthy sentencing of offenders.
The most recent case concerned that of Matthew Woods, 20, who was jailed at Chorley Magistrates' Court for 12 weeks for posting highly distasteful and offensive posts about the missing 5-year-old April Jones.
Mr Woods took to Facebook to make a string of comments about April Jones and missing child Madeleine McCann last Saturday evening. The posts were reported to police, who arrested him 'for his own safety' after a large group of people gathered at his home to remonstrate with him.
Mr Woods was charged with sending a grossly offensive public electronic communication under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
Sentencing him to prison, magistrate Bill Hudson said: "The words and references used to the current case in Wales and that of the missing girl in Portugal are nothing less than shocking, so much so that no right-thinking person in society should have communicated to them such fear and distress."
"The reason for the sentence is the seriousness of the offence, the public outrage that has been caused and we felt there was no other sentence this court could have passed which conveys to you the abhorrence that many in society feel this crime should receive," he added.
However, the sentence has caused a backlash from free-speech campaigners and the media who believe that Mr Woods was stupid, but not criminal.
Mr Starmer announced the review in light of several recent prosecutions, including that of Daniel Thomas who posted comments about Olympian Tom Daley, and Liam Stacey who mocked footballer Fabrice Muamba whilst he was fighting for his life.
Whilst Mr Woods received a custodial sentence, others have escaped prosecution or been sentenced with community service orders, suggesting the law is being applied in an inconsistent way.
Statistics show that there are around 2,500 complaints relating to social media each year, or roughly 50 each week. Lawyers and judges are increasingly finding it difficult to know which cases to prosecute and the appropriate sentencing, and the police believe they are wasting time and resources on petty online rows.
Review of the law
Now the Crown Prosecution Service will invite social media companies, lawyers and academics to comment on how the law could be changed or applied differently.
"The emerging thinking is that it might be sensible to divide and separate cases where there's a campaign of harassment, cases where there's a credible and general threat, and prosecute," Mr Starmer told the BBC.
However, he added that one-off offensive communications would not be immune from prosecution but would almost certainly be treated differently from sustained online hate campaigns.
The right to be offensive
There are also plans to request that social media sites do more to monitor the posts of their users, removing offensive posts quicker.
Mr Starmer believes that new guidelines will help police, lawyers and judges to apply the law appropriately, suggesting that the threshold for a criminal prosecution should be higher than it is presently.
"We live in a democracy, and if free speech is to be protected there has to be a high threshold. People have the right to be offensive, they have the right to be insulting, and that has to be protected," he told the BBC.