Social media is a tricky new area of law – #watch out

John Halewood Dodd
John Halewood Dodd

Social media sites are not something that I am personally familiar with, and those who know me will be able to confirm that I am something of a Luddite when it comes to modern technology.
But in the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a changing.

Last week I ordered a number of tablets, (which I found extremely hard to swallow.) When they were handed out to the eager recipients within my office this was done with a reminder of our office policy on the use of social media sites. Yes, we really do have an office policy to deal with this specific issue, and with good reason. Locally, we have seen a massive upsurge in the number of criminal cases involving Facebook and Twitter and this is being mirrored throughout the country.

People have posted comments that have landed them in real trouble with the law.

We had cases following the summer riots of 2011 where suggestions of involvement in similar unrest in this area, regardless of whether they were being serious or not, led to conspiracy charges and subsequent Crown Court trials.

My firm alone currently has over 40 cases that involve at least an element of evidence obtained from social media sites. There are now designated teams of police officers who regularly trawl social media sites checking for any form of criminality.

Those arrested often claim ignorance, but the Attorney General has this week published guidelines to make the online world aware of the rules that apply. This is an area of the law that is developing rapidly and I predict many more people ending up before the courts. So much so, in fact, that we are making a concerted effort to ensure that our lawyers become experts in this field, myself included.

With such prominent people as the Prime Minister, President Obama, and even the Pope having Twitter accounts who knows, I might end up with the odd celebrity client.

However, our office policy means that I won’t be able to Tweet about it.