It’s a fact that social media has become increasingly popular in recent years and has made its way into almost every era of our lives. The impact that it has cannot be neglected as this online platform is able to influence politics, replace traditional media outlets, contribute to a business success or failure, not to mention the way it has changed our personal lives.‘Think before you speak’ is the new ‘think before you tweet’ as what you do online may have legal implications if you post false statements, for example. There is now more awareness both among the public and the police regarding the issues that social media may raise. Even though the law in this area is still quite unsettled and constantly changing, there are important laws that govern the social media use that relate to copyright, trademark infringement, labor relations or defamation.
In the UK, if you post a false statement that causes ‘serious harm’ to a person’s reputation or ‘serious financial loss’ to a company you may be sued under the Defamation Act 2013. Also, the UK Crown Prosecution Service has issued some guidelines to set out the approach the prosecutors should take in cases involving communication sent via social media. Therefore, the law may intervene in cases where there is evidence of credible threats of violence to an individual, harassment, stalking, false or offensive social media profiles, to name a few. These guidelines are necessary so that cases are more carefully analyzed and not prosecute people for making innocent jokes, for example. The US also regulates the social media by the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that covers defamatory or illegal content that is posted and shared online.
This is also a serious issue when talking about social media as it’s easy to steal a person’s photo or idea, so the law applies online, just as it does offline. A woman in the UK has recently been convicted to two-year prison for stealing photos of children from Instagram accounts and posting on her profile as being her own. Also, if social media is part of your business strategy, you need to understand the regulations in order to avoid copyright infringement, so extra attention is needed on what is being posted online. There is though the risk that someone misuses images that are posted online, even if it is not legally permitted. This is why, whenever you think you might be at risk it’s better to seek for expert advice. Who wants a lawsuit, anyway?
Maybe the most concerning issue associated with the use of social media is cyberbullying as this can cause significant emotional and psychological distress. Cyberbullying, just as the traditional form of bullying is most common among the younger generation, who is the most vulnerable to this form of harassment. We witness today how teenagers’ lives revolve around social media, either Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, this is their entertainment and the center of their activities, relationships and even emotions. The impact that cyberbullying has on their lives cannot be neglected and social media providers should be more responsible and take actions to protect those being bullied. Here are some common effects that online bullying may have:
- Low self-esteem – the victims of cyberbullying are usually attacked where they are most vulnerable, so they might feel dissatisfied with who they are and start to change themselves in some way so that bullying can stop.
- Loneliness and isolation – they often feel excluded from the group and might have difficulties in making friends
- Loss of confidence and interest in life/school/relationships
- Change in personality: anger, depression, anxiety
- Illness: change in sleeping and eating habits, insomnia, stress-related conditions
The most dangerous impact of cyberbullying is the risk of suicide. Cyber victims can be targeted at any time and wherever they are, they may feel powerless and unable to get rid of the bully. Teenagers or even adults might feel the only way to escape is through suicide, which is really an alarming situation.
Cyberbullying is not specifically regulated in the existing legislation, but there are laws that address this form of electronicharassment such as in the US. At the European level, however, Spain is the only country that claims to include cyberbullying in their legislation. Also, The UK Government has an Internet Safety Strategy that aims to work together with companies like Facebook in order to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.
Severe cases where cyberbullying resulted in suicide or other tragic consequences were investigated as criminal harassment and charged as such. A recent case is the conviction of a man from Canada accused of harassing and blackmailingCanadian teenager Amanda Todd via social media until she committed suicide five years ago. Her case brought worldwide attention regarding the subject of online abuse. The man posed as a boy or girl to convince his 39 victims to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam and post images online. He was convicted by the Dutch authorities to 11 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence, being charged with fraud and blackmail via the Internet. In Canada, he is also being prosecuted facing charges such as extortion, possession of child pornography and attempting to lure a child online. The number of such cases seems to be increasing, showing that Social media platforms need to rethink the way that they approach abuse.
I think we can all agree that the impact of social media is profound. If it’s not properly regulated, it may pose a serious threat to any society governed by the rule of law.The safety on social media is as important as it is offline, we shouldn’t ignore that.
John Stuart works on behalf of mhhplaw.com in outreach and content creation. He creates engaging content that help businesses connect with their audience and stand out from the crowd.