What David says you can and cannot say on Twitter, Facebook and blogs

The rather splendid Canton Social Media Surgery people dangled a wonderful nugget of enticement to local social media wannabes for their November gathering at Chapter Arts Centre… a talk from local barrister, David Hughes, entitled What you can and cannot say on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.  Likely along with many, the Twitter joke trial had me wondering whether I should be more careful about my occasional forays into online silliness.  And this week’s (apparently extremely lenient) fining of nine people who revealed on Twitter and Facebook the identity of a woman raped by footballer Ched Evans served as a lesson, to any who weren’t clear, that social media is not a private conversation among friends.

The observant amongst you will notice this is NOT a barrister’s wig

So off I tootled to listen.  And fascinating stuff it was, too.

What follows is my representation of what I consider I heard David Hughes say.  I wouldn’t like to state he said any of this, mind.  See, I’m now rather concerned that I may misrepresent David Hughes on this here blog and he’ll come after me with his barrister-y wig…

David identified four legislative areas where social media users could trip up, namely defamation, privacy, contempt and criminal law.

Defamation

@L_OS_Cymru's Defamatory Tweet

Goodness. How rude! But is it defamatory?

See this tweet (to the left) from today…?  This tweet could well be defamatory. Unless @L_OS_Cymru can show his expressed opinion to be substantially true.  And you lot had best not go repeating what he said.  Just because you’re saying what @L_OS_Cymru has already said, doesn’t mean you’re not in trouble too.  Unless you can prove what you said wasn’t serious, was in the public interest, you knew your source for this information was reliable or you’d sought comment from me about my ducts and had also tweeted that information.  Or, if you wanted to get all Private Eye, you could tweet that you’d heard unsubstantiated reports about my ducts…

David covered a whole lot of information about defamation.  I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what he said, and appreciate he hardly touched on what he could’ve said about the subject.  The picture I felt David painted was a complex maelstrom of potential pitfalls for the unthinking tweeter.  But he did pass on one extremely handy tip… Always state true facts upon which your opinion is based.  This can be deemed to be honest comment (a legal term, that is) and is sort of ok-ish-maybe-unless-you’re-rude-about-someone-angry-and-very-very-powerful.  State your opinion, link to a published news article wherein the facts upon which your opinion is based appear and Bob’s your uncle.  Unless the article states that Bob isn’t.

Privacy

Legislation in respect to privacy seemed a heck of a lot easier to understand than defamation.  David laid out the basics for us with, “You can say what the hell you like about Gary Glitter”.  You know, unless he winds up in court.  Then, careful now.

For everyone else think:

  • Would a reasonable person expect you to keep private what you know about them?
  • Is there real justification for publishing that information (via social media)?

So, if anyone (@benelwell) knows anything more about my ducts, shush.

Contempt

David said read this.

Criminal liability

If you’re offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing online, you’re still subject to criminal law.  That’s straight forward enough and, frankly, I think we should all be clear about it by now, following a number of recent high profile cases.

David noted indecency is subject to a more fluid interpretation than obscenity.  A photograph of an aborted foetus posted online by someone making a pro-life statement could, for example, be considered indecent, and, therefore, potentially subject to criminal prosecution.  But you’re all lovely, lovely people and you won’t be getting all menacing or indecent, so you’ve nothing to worry about.  But if you do fancy mock-threatening your local airport, David remarked, “That case is a reflection of modern culture, because no-one thought he meant it seriously”.  See how careful David avoided expressing any real opinion about it though?  Eh?  Canny, that.

So there you have it.  But let’s be clear.  The above in no way constitutes legal advice.  Or opinion.  Or anything much of anything.  Dash it all, I should’ve shown you a picture of a cat instead of writing this.  I think it’s ok to do that online.

Oh, and David said that because this blog post invites you to comment, I’m responsible for what you say on here, so have to moderate your comments carefully.  Consider yourself warned, @L_OS_Cymru.

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