There are stories in the news today warning social network users that their tweets and other messages could be used as evidence against them in court cases.
The issue came to the attention of the press after US teenager, Cody Hall, had a manslaughter charge upgraded to murder as a result of boasts about speeding he put on Twitter months earlier. The tweets including “Live fast die young” and “come on a death ride with me” lead prosecutors in California to increase the charge against him from manslaughter to murder and to revoke his bail following his arrest for knocking over and killing cyclist Diana Hersevoort whilst driving in Dublin, California.
Whilst the story might be surprising to some, there has not been a recent change in the law. It has always been the case in the UK that things said on social media can be seen by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and used in court.
Earlier this year, the police passed a file to the CPS for investigation after tweets by trainee accountant Emma Way stating “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax!” were forwarded to the police by other Twitter users. It also seems likely the Facebook profile of Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, the driver of the speeding train that derailed in Spain last month killing 79 people, will be used as evidence against him after he allegedly posted a picture of a train speedometer at 200km/h (124mph), writing: “I’m at the limit and I can’t go any faster or they will give me a fine.”
It is not just post about crimes which social network users should be concerned about, earlier this year a tweet published by Sally Bercow about Tory peer Lord McAlpine was found by the High Court to be libellous. Mrs Bercow, the wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow tweeted “Why is Lord McAlpine trending *innocent face*”, two days after BBC Newsnight wrongly linked a “leading Conservative politician” to sex abuse claims. Following the ruling, a damages settlement was agreed for an undisclosed amount.
The message for social network users is clear; do not think that because you say something on Twitter or Facebook that it cannot be used against you in court. Remember that unlike a private conversation with a friend, posts on social networks can be viewed almost instantly by people all around the world. Only post comments which you are comfortable sharing publically with others.