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Whilst social networking sites provide a fantastic free platform for communication, sharing and self promotion, they are certainly not without risk. Of course there are many and varied hilarious stories of folks getting the boot from their employers for a few choice words; however, in recent times, this has taken a far more serious turn.
Who can forget the pivotal trial in which Paul Chambers was found guilty of sending menacing massages on Twitter, after making a bomb joke on Twitter? [see: Beware the Twitter Hate Mob] Courtney Love is another classic example of causing affray online. Her tweeted rants against a fashion designer saw the singer stung by a libel bill of £264,000.
Rather than learning from these lessons, it appears that more and more people are falling into the same trap. Recently there was a major movement to out celebrities who had paid for legal super injunctions to protect themselves against media coverage. This resulted in a high profile footballer being named on Twitter, and subsequent threats to press charges against those who did the naming.
This week we have finally moved from the bizarre to the ridiculous. Today the courts have heard about how a scorned husband embarked on a blogging and Twitter campaign against his wife and lover. Unfortunately for the husband, he is now in the dock facing allegations of harassment – leading to the accuser losing his job .
Understandably many are viewing this as a pivotal court case, including the somewhat unfortunate transgressor Ian Puddick. Many see blogs and social media as a platform for free speech; however, cases like this could potentially bring about boundaries and limitations to acceptable usage.
However, where the law is entirely unambiguous is in the case of jurors attempting to contact the accused in a trial. This was perhaps one of the more eye-catching social media horror stories of recent times, when Joanne Fraill did exactly that. Rather than consulting her fellow jurors, as is allowed by law, she tracked down the accused on Facebook, befriended them and brought about the collapse of a multi-million pound drugs trial.
In the days before social media this would be almost unthinkable, at the very least it would take a lot longer. However, with 600 million+ people on Facebook, it’s far easier to succumb to the temptation. However, with Ms Fraill staring a two year jail term in the face, she serves as a very good example to those who would choose to follow in her footsteps.
Social media isn’t a lawless world in which you can get away with anything. It’s a public forum where comments are traceable and you are entirely accountable. Whilst some of the cases brought forward are ridiculous, others shouldn’t be ignored. Libel will always be libel, as will discussing a court case outside of the room.
Unfortunately this kind of misuse and ignorance doesn’t show any signs of abating. As more people pour online, without necessarily considering the consequences of their actions, it is perhaps a regrettable inevitability that more instances will occur. Therefore, whether you are representing a business or just yourself, it is best to proceed with caution.
Wooden gavel and books on wooden table via BigStock