The world of social media has had a large impact on the world since its development, and continues do to so in today’s world. Despite the numerous benefits of social networking, there are also many negative elements to it which can interfere with our lives. Many people feel the need to use these social networks to advertise their opinions, but it is vital to know the extent to which they can be voiced. This article will seek to explain the rights we have on social media and what can be done to prevent or deal with its problems.
Despite the numerous benefits of social networking, there are also many negative elements to it which can interfere with our lives.
The law in this area is dealt with primarily under the Malicious Communications Act 1988, with further provisions added in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 in section 43. The latter act codified law surrounding ‘electronic communications’ which would cover social networking websites as well as emails. Under these laws, a person is guilty if they send ‘indecent’ or ‘grossly offensive’ messages, or send ‘threats’, or ‘false information’ with the intention of ‘causing distress or anxiety.’ If a person is found guilty of these malicious communications, they can be charged with a fine and/or serve up to six months in prison.
Similar offences exist under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, regarding the improper use of public electronic communications networks. On a more serious basis, the victim can be protected by the Harassment Act 1997, if the malicious communications have caused the victim to fear violence. Furthermore, racially or religiously aggravated comments come under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 in sections 28 to 32.
There have been many accounts of people being arrested and convicted under these acts due to their behaviour on social networks. In 2012, 21-year-old Liam Stacey was sentenced to 56 days in prison for sending racially aggravated tweets to the footballer Fabrice Muamba.
How can you avoid it?
It must be noted that even if no trouble arises from violent online messages, the posters in question can still be punished. During the riots of summer 2011, two men were jailed for four years for creating a Facebook event named ‘Smash down in Northwich Town‘, encouraging others to take part in the riots. Their punishments were sustained even though these riots did not take place.
As well as this, not replying to the person in question alone can also benefit in the long run.
In some cases, however, the way the law has dealt with supposed malicious communications may be seen as unnecessary or exaggerated. The infamous case of Paul Chambers, who sent a tweet suggesting he would “blow [Robin Hood Airport] sky high” is a strong example of this – as he was fined for sending menacing comments (this was later quashed). This case may be an extreme example of the law’s dealing in this area, but it signifies a difficulty in seeing messages in anything other than face value. It also serves as a strict warning to those who may posts comments like these in the future, regardless, of whether they are in jest or not.
What if you are on the receiving end of these messages?
Of course, celebrities are not the only people who can encounter abusive messages on the internet. Cyberbullying, for example, is prevalent among teenagers. In March 2013, it was estimated that 38 percent of young people have been affected by cyberbullying, and in some cases, this type of bullying has led to suicide and self-harm.
Although relying on the police and criminal investigation services may seem like the best option, it is not always the most effective way of dealing with cyberbullying. In some ways, handling the situation yourself can be the most appropriate solution in certain circumstances.
Although relying on the police and criminal investigation services may seem like the best option, it is not always the most effective way of dealing with cyberbullying.
If the comments made towards you are harmful and it is possible to ignore the comments, then that method could be employed. On websites such as Ask.fm for example, there is an option to turn off anonymous questions. Websites such as Twitter also offer blocking and reporting options. As well as this, not replying to the person in question alone can also benefit in the long run. If somebody is seeking attention by sending harassing messages, they would often want to see the victim distressed, and so replying to them would satiate this. Often, ignoring and blocking them would stop their messages from being read and can also cut down stress significantly.
If the comments become too personal, contacting the website in question is often the best solution. Twitter, for example, offers various ways of reporting abusive users. If the extent to which the users are abusing you has become far too personal or threatening, relying on the police would usually be the safest and clearest option.
In some ways, being subject to abusive messages can also be avoided if users have a more shrewd understanding of the social media world. Revealing personal details, for example, would not be advisable as any clues for others to piece together private information could become dangerous in the future.
The world around us is a scary place, but the online world is potentially scarier. Sending messages on social networking websites must be thought about as they could lead to many negative consequences if they are malicious or threatening. In many cases, the law has almost overcompensated in punishing those who send abusive messages, perhaps due to support for it online. However, it only serves as a strict warning to become more vigilant in what is posted and received online.