Take Care Online

There are a number of advantages to social media. It gives readers access to a wide range of news and opinions. It also gives someone like me the opportunity to express my opinions on blogs such as this.

But this doesn’t mean that I can say what I like. Last month I helped put together a CIPR seminar in Liverpool on social media and the law. Steve Kuncewicz, a lawyer who specialises in social media legislation, made it very clear that the laws which cover traditional media, such as defamation and copyright, also apply online.

Steve also made the point that you need to remember that anything which you post online today will still be available for people to view in years to come. A good example of this is the case of Mhairi Black who in May became the UK’s youngest MP at the age of just 20. Several newspapers trawled through her social media accounts and found postings from a few years back which contained some swear words and many references to alcohol. The damage to her reputation was slight as most people took the view that this was hardly unusual behaviour for a student, especially one from my home town of Glasgow!

But the dangers of your postings getting you into serious trouble are all too real. Several fans of Blackpool FC are facing libel actions after the club’s owners objected to criticism on Facebook. Earlier this week the FT reported that number of defamation cases in the UK has risen by 23 per cent in the last year, mainly as a result of an increase in social media cases.

It seems to me that the best approach is to apply good old fashioned common sense and think through the consequences of what it is that you are about to publish. Expressing an honest opinion which has a basis in fact is unlikely to get you into too much trouble. But, as Sally Bercow found out to her cost, making unsubstantiated allegations based on nothing more than hearsay and gossip might well do.

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