The case of lawyer Charles Richardson, who has been charged with libelling a police detective in a status update on his Facebook page, has reopened the debate about whether what you post on social media sites can or should land you in a lot of legal trouble. The short answer is, of course it can, as a lengthening list of high-profile Twitter and Facebook cases illustrates. I’ve long made the point to fellow users that if you post something on a blog or your Facebook page, you are effectively publishing and are subject to the same laws of libel as any traditional media. Freedom of expression should not come without responsibility.
James Whittaker and Sirkka Huish did a good job in today’s Bermuda Sun highlighting the pitfalls and potential risks for local social media users in light of the Richardson case. I urge you to read it – and show it your kids, many of whom either seem to be oblivious to the personal damage their posts can cause or the fact that they are accountable for what they write and, in an extreme case, end up being taken to court.
The legal debate is growing ever complex as it grapples with jurisdictional issues thrown up by the internet, whether Facebook and Twitter should be held liable for the content of their sites in the same way that newspapers are, and whether the law can even keep up with the pace of emerging technology.
Given the trillons of tweets and updates posted every day, it would be impossible for any legal system to deal with every potentially damaging case. Ultimately we need to take more personal responsibility for our actions. As a law professor stated in an excellent CNN piece in 2009:
“The law is only good at policing the most extreme invasions and the most outrageous cases. It can’t take the place of good manners, social norms and etiquette – the kind of thing that has always governed negotiations about face-to-face behaviour. We should never expect that the judges are going to save us from our own worst impulses.”