Social media pitfalls

Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012

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OPINION: Social media has many advantages. It also has its pitfalls.

And Timaru people just may have fallen into one of them.

The pitfall is that social media, in its various forms, is effectively a publishing platform. To the wider world.

So you have to be careful about what you say there.

Why, because there are laws around such things. Like defamation, copyright and contempt of court.

Or, in a case now being investigated by Timaru police, allegations of breaching a court-imposed name suppression order.

The courts take breaches seriously. Orders are made for good reason and disobeying them can be detrimental not just to a defendant but others; and breaches undermine the court itself.

We're on a slippery slope if that is allowed to happen.

What if the name bandied about is wrong? What of our tenet of justice of innocent until proven guilty?

It will be interesting to see what unfolds here.

It's one thing that a complaint is laid, but how vigorously will police pursue it? Gathering and validating evidence will be an issue, as will determining the culpability of anyone charged.

What did they know of the court order? What of their knowledge about breaching court orders? Or their understanding of "publishing" such material? Is the first person to break the law the one who is charged, or others in the chain as well?

Without doubt people have effectively breached court orders simply by chatting in the street, but social media is another thing again. It often involves the written word and the dissemination is widespread. With no filters.

If someone is charged it will impact on the use of social media. For a time anyway.

Which raises a bigger issue.

Is there now an obligation on police to more actively monitor social media sites, and to hold more people to account?

That will take time and resources, which they may not have.

Or do they wait for complaints, and follow them up as is seen fit?

It's a vexed question. We're entering new territory here.

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