This morning’s Radio 4 Today programme raised the issue of social media users’ “ignorance” around legal issues, with the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, who has today issued Interim guidelines on “prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media”.
Ignorance is no defence, but given that Starmer suggested that a leading QC hadn’t thought about the sophistication of the issues (a charge which the lawyer in question is robustly defending – on Twitter, of course), what hope for the public at large?
I’ve been interested in the idea of public legal education (PLE) for social media users for a while (see my blogger project in 2010, for example) – initially around civil law (defamation, privacy, contempt) and more recently, criminal offences (Malicious Communications Act 1988; Communications Act 2003; Contempt of Court Act 1981).
The court order issue, mentioned on Radio 4 this morning, is the really interesting one for me. In 2010, I wrote about the lack of clarity around blogging and reporting restrictions; the situation hasn’t much improved since then, although people are probably more aware of the risks through increased media discussion.
Jon Harman (@colmmu) is also interested in this area, and has posted some quick thoughts on his Tumblr blog:
On one hand whilst “ignorance” is not a defence, do we have an education system currently capable of raising digital literacy and the laws that relate to it, do we need to do more in public legal education or even state education given that most people do not actively seek to break these laws, they are just unaware? When we had restricted systems of publishing we had mechanisms to filter and check, we had the basis of journalism training wedded to media and publishing laws – but that’s not possible in this new landscape
His suggestion? A legal Siri … Read in full here.