Think before you tweet: Two-thirds of Twitter users 'unaware' of legal risks

Research suggests that most UK Twitter users, which operate under strict libel and defamation laws, are 'unaware' of the legal risks associated with posting online content.

From gagging orders to inciting rioting, and libel suits and defamation, Twitter can be a minefield for legal implications, according to new research.

Amid the super-injunction controversy earlier this year, 68 percent Twitter users in the UK have "little or no awareness of their legal responsibilities", law firm DLA Piper found.

Britain's libel law is of a particular concern, something that came to light earlier this year, when thousands of Twitter users defied a court-ordered injunction by publishing and retweeting the names of celebrities who had taken legal measures to protect aspects of their private lives.

(Source: Flickr, CC)

Out of the 2,095 adult web users surveyed, the results showed that websites are not as moderated as once were, with 6 percent of respondents saying that they have had a comment removed from social media sites, compared to 14 percent in 2008.

Also, with citizen journalism on the rise, using public sites like Twitter to contribute to the news collective, just over a third thought that users should be held to the same standards as journalists on social media outlets.

If this is the case, why are so many then going on to break libel law or court orders, when journalists must often refrain from publishing or broadcasting potentially harmful or damaging content?

Super-injunctions are a very British invention. The news that court-issued gagging orders could prevents the disclosure of information, but also the very fact an injunction has been taken out, rose to infamy earlier this year, when footballer Ryan Giggs gagged the entirety of Britain, without the general population even being aware of it.

One of the problems with super-injunctions, simply put, is that bar a very select few -- including lawyers, courtroom staff and the person whose privacy is held in the balance -- nobody knows about the gagging order.

As the issue of freedom of speech in the UK has always, particularly in recent times, been a controversial topic, it takes only one anonymous Twitter user to break the silence, and the word can be spread virally in minutes.

Twitter, though now operating under UK law since the opening of a London office, it continues to highlight the need that "the tweets must flow". Yet, if the tweets do flow and one unwittingly or knowingly breaks a super-injunction, that person can find themselves in contempt of court.

Suffice to say, it can carry a penalty of two years in prison.



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