Don’t overlook the law when blogging or commenting

Dad! He pushed me!”

Sunday, 12th April 2015, 3:26 pm
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

“No I didn’t, you smelly head!”

While that may not be an actual argument between my children, it is pretty close. It is also something we as human beings have to live with throughout our lives. There will always be people ready to make accusations and there will always be those that resort to insults or threats. However, unlike childhood arguments in the playground, they can have far greater consequences in adult life.

The laws of the land which we live by are not just rooted in the physical world, but apply to the online and virtual world just as much. We hear stories about harassment or ‘cyber bullying’ on social networks like Twitter and Facebook, sometimes with fatal results. Then there are cases where people have received criminal records for the things they have said online. Yes, we live in a democracy and we do believe in freedom of speech, but there are laws to protect us and if you break them, you should expect to feel a firm hand on your shoulder and the words “‘ello. ‘ello. ‘ello” in your ear.

So let’s talk about that right now. What should you do if someone abuses you or threatens you, perhaps with physical violence? The first thing I would do in a case like that, is to take a screenshot of the post or comment and save it. I have heard of cases recently where political activists have threatened people who do not share their point of view. The offenders have been quick to delete the post once it has had the desired effect, but deleting something doesn’t mean it never happened. A simple screenshot can be used as evidence if you take things to the police and lets face it, if someone threatens you that is a criminal act and you really should report it.

To take a screenshot is as easy as pressing the PrtScn (Print Screen) button on your keyboard. You can then paste it (Ctrl+V) into an email, or a Word document or jpg file.

Being aware of the law is not just about knowing your rights if you are a victim. What you say or think behind closed doors can lead you into trouble if you post it online. For example, if you make an accusation about someone online, or if they make one about you, then that can very easily stray into libel. Newspapers and the media in general are very well aware of this, but it often goes overlooked by people blogging or using social media. The trouble is the law still applies and you need to be really careful what you say or publish online.

Sometimes even the best of intentions can land someone in trouble with the law. There have been some high profile cases where a victim or a suspect of a crime has been named by friends or relatives in a public space. Often this breaks the law as there will have been a court order preventing the naming of the specific individuals involved. This usually happens in cases of sexual abuse or that involve children, but the judge presiding over a case can apply it at any time. This even applies in cases of ‘jigsaw identification’ where information about an individual is revealed that allows others to make an informed guess at the person’s identify. So naming the school and/or the class of a child victim, or the relationship the victim has to someone else in the case, etc. Again the media are well versed in these things.

The rule of thumb here is if you read a story and it does not include names, then assume there is a court order in place and respect it yourself.