Is Twitter really the staunch defender of free speech that it proclaims itself to be? Its role in enabling the revolution of the Arab Spring was certainly a positive one, but there’s also a darker side to Twitter and other social media.
What follows is a guide to what you need to know about social media and the law.
1. Don’t Fake Your Identity
Take this case out of Connecticut.
After the tragic shootings at Newtown last December, numerous people posted fake information on social media related to the murders of 26 people, 20 of them young children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
As CNN reports:
“There has been misinformation from people posing as the shooter in this case, posing using other IDs, mimicking this crime and crime scene and criminal activity that took place in this community. There’s been some things in somewhat of a threatening manner,” [CT State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance] said.
“These issues are crimes. They will be investigated, statewide and federally,” he added. “Prosecution will take place when people who are perpetrating this information are identified.”
In Connecticut, harassment can be a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Authorities at Newtown have emphasized that this law applies to all forms of communication, including via the internet, social media and by telephone.
2. Don’t Cyberstalk
In 2011, two teenage girls in southwest Florida were charged with felony aggravated stalking after authorities say they created a Facebook account in a classmate’s name and posted a fake nude photograph of her. The two, aged 15 and 16, were charged after a lengthy investigation by law enforcement officials into a pair of Facebook accounts created eight months earlier.
The two girls posted sexually explicit photos, which had been doctored to include the head of the victim on a nude female’s body, and cleverly put together to make it look as if the victim herself had posted the images.
As in almost all legal cases in the U.S., laws governing taking a photo of your ballot vary from state to state. In case it seems exciting to share your vote with all your friends electronically, don’t do it. It is probably either illegal or highly disapproved of.
According to this list compiled by the Citizen Media Law Project, many states forbid the documentation of one’s vote. Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia have laws that “expressly prohibit all recording inside the polling place.” In other states, such as Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and New York, it’s against the law to take a photograph or film a marked ballot.
4. Don’t Use Facebook Posts To Advertise Your Law Business
If you do, you could be in violation of your state’s ethics rules.
Would you consider it ethical for a lawyer to post the following to a social media site such as Facebook:
“Another great victory in court today! My client is delighted. Who wants to be next?”
In California, that post would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, according to a recent ethics opinion issued by the State Bar of California’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct. The opinion, issued late in December, considered the following issue:
Under what circumstances would an attorney’s postings on social media websites be subject to professional responsibility rules and standards governing attorney advertising?
They decided that posts by attorneys on social media websites are subject to professional responsibility rules governing attorney advertising.
5. Don’t Move To The Philippines
If you’re thinking that restrictions on social media in the U.S. are stringent, check out what’s going on in the Philippines. A new ruling that went into law last October means that people could be imprisoned for common activities like sharing Facebook and Twitter posts.
The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III on Sept. 12, sets penalties for several computer-related crimes, including child pornography, identity theft, online fraud and illegally accessing computer networks. However, critics are most worried about libel cases, an offense that can lead to imprisonment
In the Philippines libel is a criminal offense that can result in imprisonment. The law applies the legal definition of libel to any online activities, so that any comment on Facebook or Twitter could be declared libelous, and the author, along with those who shared it, could be prosecuted.
6. But You Can Discuss Your Work Conditions Online
It’s a victory for employees!
Several workers have been fired from their jobs for their posts on social networks, but now the tables are turning. There have been a series of recent rulings and advisories in which labor regulators have declared restrictions on what employees can say on social media postings to be illegal. According to National Labor Relations Board, workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether at the office or online. (Although it may not be a good idea!)
This has led to the reinstatement of various workers fired for their posts on social networks, and the agency is pushing companies nationwide to rewrite their social media rules.
The scope of rules applicable for social media is rapidly changing. Meanwhile, think before you tweet.
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