When I came into journalism in 1992, the local newspaper industry was just about dragging itself into the electronic age, with a clunky PC on most desks.
Back then, the line between journalists and audience was clear: we reported; you read, watched or listened.
But in the digital age, that line has become blurred.The web, and especially blogging platforms, gave everyone access to a broadcast medium, and the phrase ‘citizen journalism’ was coined.
And the advent of social media – Twitter, especially – means we’re all publishers now.
The trouble is, the majority of bloggers and tweeters haven’t had the extensive legal training that professional journalists enjoy (it made up about a third of the content of my journalism course) yet the law applies as equally to a social media poster as to a newspaper reporter.
And now lawyers are going after bloggers and tweeters.
Following the Lord McAlpine case, in which the former Conservative party treasurer was falsely accused of being a paedophile, his solicitors have ‘politely suggested’ to social media users who retweeted the libel to fewer than 500 followers that they make a donation to charity to avoid further action.
Twitter users with more than 500 followers will not escape so easily.
And this week the attorney general announced that Twitter users who posted photos claiming to show Jon Venables – one of the killers of James Bulger back in 1993 – will face Contempt of Court proceedings.
After Venables and his co-defendant Robert Thompson were convicted of murdering the toddler, a lifetime order to protect the new identities of the killers was imposed.
Journalists knew they faced Contempt of Court proceedings if they broke that order, and they knew the consequences too: prison.
Are today’s users of Twitter as aware of the consequences? I doubt it. Is it tempting to repost a picture purporting to be Jon Venables, even if it’s not necessarily him? It seems so.
So, short of sitting the Bar exam, what can you do to keep yourself safe in the world of blogging and social media?
Employing a professional to help you with your communications content and strategy – from blog posts to press releases – can boost your business while ensuring you stay on the right side of the law.
Looking for a free marketing tip? Have this one:
If you can’t prove it, don’t post it.