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Tweeting in Ignorance

Twitter and Facebook users are being warned about the dangers they are posing when naming and shaming in their tweets and posts. What we are witnessing is the natural progression of social media, as we witnessed years and years ago with publishing laws and an attempt to make contempt of court laws fit for the age we live in – i.e. the social media age.

The U.K. Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, is about to publish court advisory notes applying to internet users. This move is the effort of the Government to make online users aware of the impact their posts can have and their potential impact on the chances of having a fair trial in court.

The notes outline what information is and isn’t permitted for publication. A few cases in the past few months show that these notes are indeed necessary. Both celebrities and members of the public have happened to tweet the names of reported law offenders and later had to publicly apologize or suffer prosecution. According to Mr. Grieve we live in an age when blogs and social media channels allow just about everyone to reach to thousands of people instantly via a single post or a tweet. It may seem like freedom, but it also poses certain challenges to the justice system that need to be addressed.

This regulation is not an attempt to take this freedom away from people and tell them what they can talk about on social media, it’s more of an effort to help facilitate commentaries in a lawful way and protect those who do not know how a tweet may become a problem. The Attorney General believes that this regulation will finally update the system which has failed to keep up to date with the information age. Of course there are opposing opinions – Jenny Afia, a partner at Schillings, thinks that “Unless people understand the consequences of breaking rules about court reporting, the advisories on social media will be ineffective.”

In this day and age, a conversation about a criminal case can instantly be published online, instead of being had down the pub, thus reaching a massive amount of readers. The common misconception is that the Internet is a free-speech zone with no regulations whatsoever. However, Twitter and Facebook are still publications and they are subject to the same laws that apply to mainstream media. So anyone who comments on a criminal case in a way that may hinder a fair trial can be prosecuted for law contempts and therefore imprisoned.

For more information visit the Government page.

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