September 23, 2013

Your Rights, Responsibilities & The Law When Using Social Media

This post was written by: Aston Bond Law Firm

Social media is a great tool for both businesses and individuals, Aston Bond use Twitter and Facebook ourselves. However, since social media’s founding we have seen an increase in the number of cases where people have been prosecuted for their actions on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And more than often its because the individuals involved were not aware that any law protected users of social media and that they were in-fact legally binding statements.

Within this post I will explain your rights and responsibilities when using social media sites and how you can protect yourself from any legal difficulties.

Which Laws Protect Social Media Users? 

There is no specific law in the United Kingdom which refers to social media alone, however; social media is protected by a number of laws such as the Malicious Communications Act of 1988, the Communications Act of 2003 (section 127), and the Criminal Justice and Police Act of 2001 (section 43). These laws all cover social media and other forms of electrical methods of communication including email.

Under these laws it is illegal to send “indecent” or “grossly offensive” messages, and/or send “threats”, or “false information” with the intention of “causing distress or anxiety” to its receiver or receivers.

Furthermore, the Harassment Act of 1997 also plays a part in the protection of social media users and  if found guilty of sending such content by way of electrical communication (i.e. social media, email) you can face both a fine and up to a six month prison sentence.

What are Your Rights & How to Protect Yourself 

Social media is considered very similar to any other method of communication including telephone or text message and regulated under the same laws as email messaging. Its for this reason that your rights are fairly obvious. You have the right to feel safe and not threatened and you have the right of freedom of speech unless it may cause distress and/or anxiety to somebody who may view that message.

However, its much more complicated when trying to protect yourself. With so many social media websites around each has different methods of protecting its users. The most popular way to protect yourself is by paying attention to the privacy settings and also blocking users who you do not wish to be able to communicate with you. Furthermore, the majority of social media sites give its users the ability to report an individual of cyber bullying or threatening behaviour.

Furthermore, with the laws above protecting social media users, you also have the protection of both the police and UK legal system. Notifying, and providing the police with evidence to show that somebody has made you feel distressed and/or anxious on social media may be evidence enough to make a prosecution.

You should also take into consideration the law surround libel which also includes electrical communication such as social media.

What Should You Avoid Doing

Many social media users believe that the images, videos and text they publish on social media sites can be deleted and never viewed again. However, the majority of social networks including Facebook, Twitter and some email platforms store messages, images and videos after they have been deleted in order to protect other users when and if they report abuse. This content may and can be viewed during an investigation.

The best way to avoid getting in trouble with the law when using social media is to censor your status updates, tweets or images and videos shared. This will ensure that you are posting content which will not cause offence or harm.

Furthermore, you must also remember that it is not just the original content you publish but also your comments on others contents. Pages on Facebook have also been known to be the source of an arrest. For example, if you were to start a Facebook page which targets a specific group of people and its considered to be illegal then this may and likely will back fire on you at some point.

However, the best way to avoid any lawsuit from your use of social media is to limit the opinions you share on social media and never get involved bullying, celebrity or not. You should also think before you share, as once its shared its never completely deleted. Furthermore, with so many people using public social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube your content can now be viewed by millions in just a few hours.

A Conclusion 

A recent survey showed that over 30% of teenagers have been affected by cyber bullying in their life. And with the dramatic growth of new social media sites it’s a certainty that this number will increase. However, its becoming easier to protect yourself from cyber bullying as well as avoid being considered a cyber bully or offending individuals over social media.  Share safely . .

Ashton Hudson, Online Marketing Executive