With the increased use of social media by the general public it was important for the Crown Prosecution Service to clarify the guidelines for prosecution of offences on social media which they did and published on the 20th June 2013. However there still seem to be issues surrounding people’s lack of knowledge in this area.
Recently Police have been looking at Tweets which followed the conviction of Jeremy Forrest to see whether Tweeters had broken the law by identifying his victim and were in discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service to establish this.
This case has highlighted the issues which surround laws which protect victims and the ability for social media to break these laws. The issues come after confusion that surrounded protection and anonymity the girl was given under two forms of legislation, who had been named prior to the court case when the police were declared her a missing person.
The first protection gives victims of sexual offences anonymity for their lifetime, unless they chose to waive their anonymity. The second is a court-imposed order under the Child and Young Persons Act 1933 which protects identity until 18 or until a judge removes it. Some tweeters were clearly confused by the illogical situation which gave anonymity to a victim who had previously been named, but there were others who were not confused but chose to name the girl as they did not believe the law made sense.
This is not the first case however where social media has been used to identify a victim protected by the courts. The victim of rape by the footballer Ched Evans was named and attacked on Twitter when it was incorrectly presumed that she would waive her anonymity to sell her story to the papers. Fortunately, many of the individuals were arrested and convicted as a result of the tweets.
Should the intent of the tweet be taken into consideration by the Police and Crown Prosecution Service when they decide whether the law has been broken?
Although there appears to be no malice in the tweets by those who were confused by the anonymity of the victim, ignorance is not the best defence especially when the results for the victim are the same regardless of intent. It could be argued that being mentioned in one tweet is not as damaging as identification in traditional media the possibility of retweets and wide publication must be considered.
With the increasing use of social media, its growing appearance in the law and the lack of knowledge on its interaction with the law maybe it is time for some clarity and information to keep up to date and prevent ignorance as a defence in similar situations.
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