To Tweet or Not to Tweet?
You cannot run and you cannot hide; social media is here to stay. The ability to instantaneously voice an opinion to thousands worldwide may seem liberating, but what happens when things go wrong?
Posts made on social media sites are subject to the same legal requirements that the mainstream media have to adhere to. Therefore, if a comment is made in regard to a case or a party to that case via a social media site which could prejudice the ability to hear that case fairly and justly, it could be seen as a contempt of court under the Contempt of Court Act 1981; which, is nothing to be laughed at when such could result in a prosecution leading to prison.
Unlike the mainstream media, there is no 'editing' before a post is made. It goes out there and then. A notable and recent example of this comes from Peaches Geldof. Peaches decided to tweet the names of two of the mothers of the children the subject of abuse from former Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins. Peaches got off lightly with an apology - via Twitter, of course. In 2012, several social media users were fined for naming the rape victim of footballer Ched Evans. Even this week, Humberside Police have taken to their Facebook account (quite aptly) to urge the public not to comment on the investigation into the recent murder of Steven Herbert following a flurry of posts to their page following the announcement of the individuals charged with Mr Herbert's murder.
It is therefore no wonder then that the Attorney General has now published on the Government's gov.uk website and Twitter account the Advisory Note previously only issued to print and broadcast media outlets on a "not for publication" basis.
Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC MP said:
"In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk. That is no longer the case, and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media."
"This is not about telling people what they can or cannot talk about on social media; quite the opposite in fact, it's designed to help facilitate commentary in a lawful way. I hope that by making this information available to the public at large, we can help stop people from inadvertently breaking the law, and make sure that cases are tried on the evidence, not what people have found online."
Whilst no case has yet collapsed because of any social media outbursts (although juries have been discharged and replaced with new juries), the warnings against making salacious posts about a case are now publicly available and the obvious advice is to not comment or publish anything online about cases (or parties to those cases) if you want to avoid the law catching up with you.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.