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> Social Media and Lawyers in Schools Monday, 5th August 2013

As our use of social media has escalated, so too have stories about its use.   Now, more than ever social media related issues seem to be hitting the headlines.  Stories about abusive messages sent to Caroline Criado-Perez, Stella Creasy and other vocal feminists; the repercussions of online messages; and MPs and the police calling for Twitter to consider how it deals with abusive messages have been widely circulated.  Social media is clearly a salient issue, which is why Lawyers in Schools have created a Social Media and the Law module for students.  This will be rolled out in September, following successful pilots last term.

The subject of social media raises so many different topics, including peoples’ Human Right to free speech (which is also covered in another popular Lawyers in Schools module).  Social media provides an incredible platform for people to voice their opinions on a multitude of subjects.  However, when the ‘free speech’ argument is banded around in defence of abusive and offensive messages, it can become counterproductive and even create arguments against freedom of speech.   Discussions about social media also stray into various other realms including; terrorism when bomb threats are made; feminism and sexism when threats are targeted specifically at women; racism when messages are targeted at specific racial groups; bullying, blackmail, privacy…the list goes on. 

Another crucial issue is how social media is regulated; whether it is enough to leave it to the sites themselves; do they do enough to curb illegal behaviour or inform their users about the pitfalls of using their sites?  Is the provision of a ‘report’ button enough (probably not if someone is receiving daily, multiple threats) or should the police have more of role?  Or should there be another independent regulatory body involved? And if so, at what point should an external agency become involved and what are the downfalls of increased control of social media?

Potential repercussions are also important to consider.  As 24 year old Reece Elliot found, posts have the power shut down a school on the other side of the world and land you in prison for two years.  Even if there are not immediate consequences, there may be future implications.  People seem to forget that what they are posting is pubic and permanent information for anyone to see, whether or not they intended it as such. It used to be that misdemeanours from our younger years stayed in only our (and if we were unlucky our friends’) memories. Future employers were none the wiser.  For today’s young people however, on top of worries of actually securing a job, they may encounter the extra barrier of being unfairly judged on posts and pictures from their younger, less mature, years.

This is not to say that social media is a bad thing, it’s an incredible tool which can unite people globally, inform and entertain.  However, now, more than ever it is crucial that young people fully understand what it means when they post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.  Constant reporting of high profile cases hasn’t seemed to stem the number of people, including young people, being reprimanded for the misuse of certain sites. 

Parents and teachers have no doubt tried to make young people aware of the dangers of using social media.  However, to get students to really think about these issues, the Social Media and Law unit employs the knowledge  of experienced Lawyers, combined with relevant and up to date case studies, to encourage young people to think about the realities of social media and potential consequences their future selves may face.  The sheer amount that has been in the news recently may be daunting for young people to process in a meaningful way.  This unit seeks to break down the important issues, by encouraging students to form their own views on what is acceptable and unacceptable online behaviour, what the related offences are and the pitfalls of restricting social media.  We hope this will make students effectively consider the positives and negatives of using social media.

Some interesting related articles:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-22083032

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-21928880

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jul/30/twitter-mp-committee-threats-women

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/whats-eating-giles-coren-twitter-victim-mary-beard-comes-under-fire-for-breaking-website-boycott-8745594.html

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/aug/03/twitter-clamps-down-on-abuse

You can now follow us on Twitter (where we will be very responsible about what we tweet!) @lawyersinschool and we’d love to hear from you if you would like to get involved with Lawyers in Schools; please email lawyersinschools@citizenshipfoundation.org.uk or call 0207 566 4141.