Social media has become an inescapable feature of everyday life but there is a lack of awareness about the risks waiting just a mouse click away.
Civil and criminal law are constantly evolving to try and meet the demands of modern society and new social mediums so it is imperative that employers implement a social media policy that protects both their employees and their business.
The Complex Interaction of Law and Social Media
The recent criminal case involving Jeremy Forrest has demonstrated the complex and changing nature of the law and why it is important for businesses and employees to understand and manage the risks of using social media.
Provisions introduced by section 13 of the Education Act 2011 towards the end of 2012 mean that teachers subjected to a particular type of accusation are now entitled to anonymity until they are formally charged with a criminal offence. This means that even if an accused teacher has been cautioned, resigned or admitted to an accusation they are still be entitled to anonymity. Any breach of this right of anonymity could be subject to a maximum fine of £5,000.
Prior to this rule coming into force, both Jeremy Forrest and his victim were lawfully identified by social media and mainstream media. Furthermore, due to the abduction that had taken place, the identification of both persons contributed greatly to the ability of the police in tracing their whereabouts.
Although the new provision is aimed at protecting teachers from false or inaccurate allegations which could tarnish an otherwise well-respected career; it is understandable why people might be tempted to break the law in similar future cases, particularly if they are unaware of the change.
The Legal Net is Tightening Over Social Media
Interestingly, in its aftermath the Jeremy Forrest case has also produced examples of laws being broken on social media. Although the victim’s identity was well known due to news reports of the abduction, since a sexual offence became apparent her anonymity is now protected until she is 18 under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and also under the criminal law as a victim of a sexual offence. Despite this, Twitter users have identified both the accused and the victim out of ignorance and possibly intent.
This is not the first example of Twitter users making a mockery of established laws; for instance the debacle over super-injunctions and social media in 2011. However, despite the law’s initial impotence in dealing with rogue Tweets, it is gradually being applied more forcefully to the issue. The Police are reportedly reviewing the recent Tweets relating to the Jeremy Forrest case and examples abound of the civil law cases involving social media; Lord McAlpine suing Sally Bercow being a prime example.
Ease of social media publication combined with ignorance of the law can present real risks for businesses and employees. The criminal law appears to be tightening up and civil parties are increasingly resorting to laws such as defamation to protect their online reputations.
Companies should protect themselves by ensuring their social media policy is robust, compliant and up to date. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.