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Be careful what you tweet: British social media users face fines

Facebook and Twitter users got official Government warning from today on discussing details of ongoing court cases.

Peaches Geldof had to apologise for tweeting about the Ian Watkins case.
Peaches Geldof had to apologise for tweeting about the Ian Watkins case.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT is to tell Twitter and Facebook users how to avoid “inadvertently breaking the law” by revealing banned details from court cases.

Legal advisories previously sent only to the mainstream media will be published on social media networks in recognition of the fact that newspapers and television no longer have a monopoly on news.

There are strict rules in place in the UK on what can be reported or publicly discussed about a court case, with fines levied on those deemed to have prejudiced a fair trial, while it is also illegal to identify some victims of crime.

But these rules are increasingly being broken by users of social networks, most recently when socialite Peaches Geldof tweeted the names of two mothers whose babies were involved in sexual abuse orchestrated by disgraced rock star Ian Watkins.

Geldof apologised and swiftly deleted the tweets but police are considering whether to press charges under the law protecting the identity of victims in sexual offences cases.

“Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean that individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post,” said Attorney General Dominic Grieve, the government’s chief legal advisor.

“This is an exciting prospect, but it can pose certain challenges to the criminal justice system.

“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.

Grieve said he hoped to “stop people from inadvertently breaking the law”.

The British attorney general’s advisories will be published on his website and his Twitter account.

In Ireland, there has been no official warning about social media and legal cases, in terms of prejudicing legal cases. On a personal level, however, businessman Declan Ganley reached a minor settlement out of court and received an apology in January from a blogger who made defamatory comments about him on Twitter this time last year.

© – AFP 2013

Read: Peaches Geldof defends tweeting names of mothers involved in Lostprophets court case >

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