In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of news stories which address the growing number of people who are being prosecuted for what they have posted online.
As authorities and networks become more and more savvy about the effects that certain comments can have on other users, it’s no wonder that it’s all become big news. But freedom of speech has always been a contributing factor in limiting the amount of power that authorities have in mitigating and prosecuting people. So can what you post send you to prison?
Perhaps the biggest news story of this nature was that of the London Riots which saw Twitter thrust into the frame for allowing users to incite violence and spread the message. It is also Twitter that, perhaps, has the highest profile amongst accusations of social media’s negative influence. It is, after all, a fast-paced whirlwind of events and happenings around the world and, in this day and age, often it presents news faster than the more traditional media.
Furthermore, it is Twitter that has found itself at the heart of a number of legal rumblings about the privacy of celebrities. The high profile case of Ryan Giggs taking out a super injunction to prevent the reporting of his affair in 2011 was one such case. It was alleged that a Twitter user posted the details online and the leak then spread wildly across with hundreds of other users posting it, making it very hard to pinpoint the original tweet and user. Nevertheless, Giggs sought out legal action against Twitter in a bid to discover who it was. The combination of the site’s freedom of speech, the potential anonymity of users, and its ‘retweet’ culture makes Twitter an extremely difficult platform to police.
Cyberbullying on social networking
Another modern issue is that of cyberbullying which plagues everyone from celebrities to ten-year-olds. Currently, police are unable to tackle this as directly as is perhaps necessary due to outdated laws and social media’s evolving landscape. Whilst cyberbullying is not explicitly illegal, it can be prosecuted for in extreme cases. Terms such as ‘trolling’ have become commonplace following successful arrests. Trolling is where someone behaves abusively online. In February 2014, the UK government were reported as saying that the simple rule of what is unacceptable offline is equally so online.
Allegedly, in 2013, some 2000 people were prosecuted for behaving in such a way, demonstrating that your posts online can, very easily, get you into trouble with the law. Sadly, this does not deter people as is evident by some high profile cases such as the 62-year old man who pretended to be the ghost of murdered toddler, James Bulger, or the 24-year old woman who bombarded herself with messages of abuse in a bid to incriminate her family.
Be careful what you post
Whilst the law is struggling to keep up with humanity’s new-found ways to be horrible to each other, the internet is a quickly-growing area of legal ramifications and limits. As the stories of successful prosecutions grow in number, as does the urgency with which users must remedy their posts. Crossing the wrong person can lead you down a very sticky path and, whilst police are still struggling to find ways to capture online criminals, their methods are clearly improving. The safest bet is the same as it has always been though: just try being nice to one another!!