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As the issue of injunctions and super injunctions have affected traditional media in the past, it appears that the prevention of information being publicised is now applicable to social media too. So, what kind of an effect will this have on the newest and most popular platform on the internet?
What ban has been imposed?
An injunction that bans the publication of information on Twitter and Facebook was issued by Mr. Justice Baker yesterday, according to the Press Association. The ruling was made in the Court of Protection which is linked to the Family Division of the High Court.
According to reports, the ban has been made on a very sensitive story regarding a woman, referred to as ‘M’ who is in a minimal conscious state, due to acute swelling of her brain. Her mother has asked for her ‘life-sustaining’ treatment to be ceased, and given care and treatment so she “retains the greatest dignity until such time as her life comes to an end”. Fearing the backlash of such a story, her mother had also applied for, and obtained, an injunction to prevent the names of everyone involved in the case, including family and care staff, being named.
It’s common for that specific division to ban information such as the identity of children from being published in many traditional media which includes websites. However what makes this so special is that this is the first ruling to specifically ban social media, such as Twitter and Facebook from publicising any information regarding the story.
Why ban Social Media?
Well in case you aren’t aware, social media, especially Twitter has come under some criticism for its role in uncovering the identities of individuals who obtained injunctions and super injunctions; banning the media from printing stories regarding their private lives.
Since then, it’s been a manic couple of weeks regarding the super injunctions on Twitter. Tweets are rife with rumour, and for seemingly innocent celebrities, this can be very damaging to their reputation. As a result there is an ongoing debate regarding freedom of speech and right to privacy.
Prior to news of this first ban on social media, it was clear that Twitter and other social media platforms were able to publish such information, much to the annoyance of the people who took out the super injunctions.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as Twitter themselves boosted their popularity online, especially in the UK. Traffic was pushed to record levels, increasing by 14% in one day and accounting for 0.49% of total visits on the 9th May, according to statistics from Experian Hitwise.
Should Social Media take Responsibility?
Since the proliferation of scandalous tweets, social media (mainly Twitter) platforms have come under a degree of criticism. At what point do they take responsibility, if any, for people sharing information? Well, one way to look at it is that web 2.0 and the inception of conversing online to networks and friends etc is really an extension of everyday conversations. In this case, are our everyday conversations policed? Will we ever get stopped or sued by someone for saying, “Oh supposedly so and so has been doing this…”? I don’t think so, or at least I’d certainly hope not.
Also legally it will be difficult to enforce as both Facebook and Twitter are headquartered in the US, and not within the jurisdiction of the English courts. This would make it hard to trace the identity of the person who posted the information, especially if the companies aren’t willing to cooperate with authorities.
The other side of this argument is from the lawyers and people who have the super injunctions. In the case of Twitter, users have to comply with local laws regarding conduct and content. If an English court has protected information that is being tweeted in the UK, then surely this information is breaking Twitter’s own local laws.
Nevertheless, the first injunction has been made on social media, so is this going to affect the way we post, tweet and share material?
This should make interesting reading for anyone who is about to post and share possibly libellous information. I wouldn’t advocate carrying on as normal, especially if you know there is an injunction of specific information being made public, however it isn’t clear how anyone will be traced. As we have seen, despite an injunction, this isn’t going to stop people from talking.
The ever changing balance of freedom of speech and right to privacy appears to have shifted further towards the latter with this ruling, which isn’t surprising in England which is dubbed the Libel capital of the world. Whether or not this will affect what’s being said worldwide remains to be seen, and without cooperation from social media themselves, it seems unlikely they will be able to trace those who have said what.
What we need to know is where the social media companies stand, and for the time being Twitter et al are remaining tight lipped, something that speaks volumes.