So-and-so’s a total fraud, isn’t he? Who’s up for a riot next week? I love social media, but it isn’t only there for good. When the good turns ugly, how do people know whether they’re playing by the rules?
Have you ever said something libellous? You might be surprised at how easy it is to do so by accident. At Which? we have lawyers to check we’re not saying anything defamatory. And that doesn’t just mean our publications – we sometimes get our Twitter and Facebook accounts checked too.
To tweet or not to tweet
If I’m annoyed about something I’ll be quick to voice an opinion. But having had libel training, I’ll be very careful about the words I use. Any idea which of the following sentences would be OK?
- ‘[Name of company] sold me a total dud. Why do they deliberately rip me off like this?’
- ‘I just bought [X] from [Name of company] and it doesn’t work. I’m so p***ed off.’
Until I started working at Which? I’d have said both were fine – they’re my opinions about the company after all. But now I’d be very wary about the first one. Why? In saying ‘deliberately rip me off’ it could be construed that I’m accusing them of fraud.
Want to do a crime? #riot
And of course it’s not just libel that can get you into hot water. People have been convicted for inciting disorder, harassment and sending ‘menacing communications’ over social media.
Despite an appeal, the recent sentences imposed on two men for inciting disorder on Facebook have been upheld. And as all dedicated Twitter users know, you should never joke about blowing up an airport, even in jest – a man who did this was fined over £1,000 and now has a criminal record.
Is your boss looking?
And although it’s not strictly a legal issue, let’s not forget the often complicated rules imposed by companies on their employees’ use of social media. Understandably, no company wants its employees saying rude things about their boss on Facebook.
But do you know exactly what your company proscribes? Some, like the BBC, will keep their noses out of your private social media activity. Others will discipline you for criticising them even if your account is private and locked down.
In a recent case, an Apple employee was fired for criticising the company and its products on Facebook. He appealed the decision, claiming that the Human Rights Act gave him a ‘right to a private life’. His appeal was rejected by the judge, who ruled that because the posts could be copied at some point they were technically not private comments.
Do you know the rules?
But people say this sort of stuff all the time – for most social media is an online version of the chit chat you have in the pub. We slander, defame, incite, joke, rant and swear all the time – it doesn’t mean we should all be fired, or arrested.
I think we need a bit of guidance, and yes I think we also need clearer and simpler rules about what could get us into hot water on the net. After all, what use are the laws we have at the moment if no one understands or knows about them?
Do you think we need laws that specifically apply to social media? Or should we be given more guidance to the general public on the implications of chatting online? Leave your comments below, but remember that Which? Conversation is a public blog, so keep your libel to yourself.