The law needs to be updated with regard to what is acceptable on social media; businesses such as Facebook and Twitter need to equally be held to account
Social media, as we’ve already reported, was proven to be anything but sociable in a London courtroom this week. With the jailing of the tweed gilet clad racist Viscount St Davids for 12 weeks for malicious communications came acceptance from the country’s most important magistrate, Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot, that “Facebook is not private” and that it is no longer a place where anything can be posted without repercussions applying.
Elsewhere, on Friday, outside of the realms of the law but again very much illustrative of the perils of posting without consideration of impact, the Mirror reported that Stella McCartney is said to be furious with David Beckham – a man known to use European privacy laws to have his own home obscured on Google – after he posted an un-pixelated image of a group of children at his daughter’s birthday party that included amongst others her six year old daughter on Instagram. Ms McCartney, a woman reportedly very protective of her child’s safety, is said to be “spitting feathers,” yet, as the paper concluded: “David Beckham has not taken the [liked by 900,000 individuals to date] post down.”
Previously decisions in civil cases – such as that of freelance journalist Dennis Rice vs. the crowdfunded news site Byline and media personality Katie Hopkins vs. blogger Jack Monroe – have highlighted that irresponsible and defamatory posts can be costly to the parties involved, with damages and legal bills awarded against Hopkins alone said to total some £130,000. Equally, as a contrast, such outcomes as Paul Chambers’ successful appeal against his conviction for tweeting about blowing an airport “sky high,” have also depressingly shown that regulation of what is acceptable is confused and in need of reform.
A most telling factor to consider is that the Communications Act came to statute in 2003 and as such really does not have any specific provision for activities conducted on mediums like Facebook – a for-profit company with revenues of £20.6 billion in 2016 and 2 billion active monthly users as of June 2017 – and Twitter – a for-profit company with revenues of £1.9 billion in 2016 and 328 million active users as of July 2017. Facebook was founded in February 2004 and Twitter in March 2006 and thus, though it is accepted that the Communications Act (2003) was appropriate back in the early noughties, it is now out of date and no longer fit for purpose.
An attempt to update the law with the Malicious Communications (Social Media) Bill in 2016 was likely going to be a step forward, but because of Theresa May’s decision to call a pointless General Election in May 2017, that failed due to it having not even yet reached the House of Lords prior to the 3rd May. Now, with the ‘Wheat Field Wanderer’ in a position of being nothing but “weak and wobbly” in terms of her political influence, such laws will likely be forgotten. That is entirely wrong and we now call upon politicians of all parties to campaign to right the wrong that allows bullies and trolls to continue to prosper.