Saturday, May 12, 2012

Social media and the law – How to stay out of trouble when using Twitter and Facebook

From the Norwich Evening News:
You see, read or hear something you like, dislike or are interested in and want to share your views with a wider audience.
And now, thanks to the great strides in communication technology in recent years, you can do so within an instant. In a matter of seconds your words can be read by someone on the other side of the world.
Such is the rise in internet social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and website message boards to name but a few, that everyone on the planet has the potential to become a publisher of words.
But, as the saying goes, words can be a powerful tool – and an increasing number of people are not being careful how they use them.
This is why, in the past couple of years, the courts, police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and solicitors are having to deal with more legal cases, both civil and criminal, involving postings made on the internet – and in particular social media sites.
As more and more people look to have their views heard by a wider audience, more are abusing those powers, and landing themselves in hot water.
Recent high-profile national cases where social media has been cited include footballer Ryan Giggs’s attempt to block details of his recent affair, where Twitter users openly posted details even though the media were barred from doing so, and the arrests of people accused of naming the victim of the rape case in which former Norwich City footballer Ched Evans was found guilty.
. . . .
Chief Supt Bob Scully explained: “The level of access to social media has gone up and, therefore, so have the crimes committed on them.
“However, there is a great deal of work being done within police forces and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to make sure we are equipped and able to prevent these crimes from taking place and, where they do, punish those responsible.
“We are looking at how we need to adjust some of our priorities to be able to respond to social media.”
According to Chief Supt Scully, the message is clear – a crime is a crime no matter where it is committed.
He said: “Being on social media can seem like a very private activity. But we hope that people realise that the same rules apply.”
. . . .
It is not just criminal cases that are being created because of social-media postings, but civil as well, such as potentially expensive libel hearings.
Tony Jaffa, a partner with media law specialists Foot Anstey Solicitors, believes many people are ending up in trouble through their online postings because they believe they are immune from responsibility.
However, he warned: “It is very simple really because nothing has changed in terms of the law; what has changed, though, is that everybody is now a publisher.
“Every single journalist, to a certain degree, is trained to either know or at least recognise when things can or cannot be published. However, certain sections of the general public just are not aware of this.
“People seem to think that, in some way, talking on social-media sites is no different to bar talk.
“However, the law treats it very differently to bar talk and ignorance is simply no defence.”
Link to the rest at the Norwich Evening News

As many of you already know, the laws relating to libel and criminal speech are substantially different in the UK and the US. A great many types of speech that would be violations of the law in Great Britain are protected under the First Amendment in the US.

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