Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Legal war spreads to Twitter & social media

The UK's Attorney General has declared he will try to rein in those who dare to break the rules surrounding what can be said during an active trial on social media. However, any attempt to do so could have a counter-productive effect.

In reports this week it is suggested that the attorney general Dominic Grieve QC is to publish guidance on Twitter to help prevent social media users from committing contempt of court when commenting on legal cases [BBC / Telegraph].

Grieve has said he "will not shy away" from taking legal action against those who flout the rules. But jurisdiction in such rulings effectively only cover the UK and those tweeting from beyond Britain's shores are beyond the reach of its legal system.

Red rag to a bull

Indeed his turning to Twitter to disseminate advisories that have previously only been issued to the media is likely to act like a red rag to a bull. As John Walsh writes in The Independent there are a great many bulls that might be stirred into action.

"Instantly I see a red rag being waved under the noses of a million bulls, and the words "Court case! Court case with secrets!!" yelled across the Twittersphere. It'll be like (as George Orwell once defined advertising) "the rattle of the stick in the swill bucket" to stir a million busy imaginations into action online," Walsh comments.

And while those tweeting from abroad may have less to fear from the wrath of Britain's legal system, even those in the UK might push the boundaries as best they can. "The owners of the imaginations may realise they're straying into areas of possible contempt, but they will, I guarantee, test that word "possible" to its outer limits," Walsh adds.

Online reaction

The reaction on many newspaper forums were scathing of Grieve's proposal calling it another assault on free speech with some vowing to ignore any advisories [Daily Mail].

The Internet has been described as a "megaphone for gossip" by Lord Justice Leveson, who warned against "trial by Twitter as he called for new laws to curb "mob rule" last year.

But curbing such platforms are difficult especially given that they are often hosted in other countries. While countries like China curtain such activity by complete blocks of such foreign social media sites, Britain is unlikely to follow such a drastic route quite yet.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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