Social Media Crime
With the ever-growing popularity of social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram it is important to take a step back and consider how you use them. You need to make sure that you and your children not only control the personal information that is put onto social media, but also your behaviour on such sites.
Control your information online
Be aware of the potential for cyber-enabled fraud. Fraudsters can use information obtained from such sites to commit identity theft. Telling everyone about your forthcoming holiday may also be an advance invitation to a burglar! It is surprising how much information we reveal about ourselves over a period of time.
If you have children, you also need to be aware of the dangers of persons contacting them and then grooming your child, building an emotional attachment to them with a view to a meeting for the purpose of sexual abuse or exploitation.
Many online games allow for messaging between users. Do you know who your child is talking to?
Control your behaviour
Many offences can be committed in the heat of the moment, or under the influence of drink. Think hard about posting your comment – you might be unable to take it back.
Trolling, or sending abusive messages online, can be an offence under both the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003, with stiff penalties in both cases. For example, ‘revenge porn’ (publishing intimate images of an ex-partner without their consent) is now a criminal offence and often results in a prison sentence.
What may seem to be banter may actually be offensive, and what may be intended to be seen by a few could be seen by thousands. A fake social networking profile or account may also be a criminal offence in certain circumstances.
What about freedom of speech?
Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. It may be restricted where necessary and proportionate.
Think it couldn’t happen to you?
Remember the Robin Hood Airport case? A young man made what he intended to be a jokey comment about blowing up an airport if he couldn’t make his flight due to adverse weather. He found himself in court, was convicted by magistrates, and again on appeal. His conviction was finally quashed at a second High Court appeal, but by then he had already lost his job as a consequence of the conviction.
What are the consequences?
Social media has even recently been blamed for an increase in knife crime as it can amplify the effect of violence. Accordingly, online offences are being dealt with seriously.
Last year, the Crown Prosecution Service updated its policy statements in order to take account of the increase in online abuse, saying that individuals need to appreciate they can’t go online and press a button without any consequences.
At the other end of the spectrum, saying something unpopular or unpleasant is not unlawful and people’s sensitivities need to be balanced with free speech. We have seen a number of cases reported that cause us concern.
This tide of sensitivity could result in people pleading guilty when in fact they are not. If faced with a charge, the only smart option is to take early advice.
How can we help?
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.