Watching the news this evening, the recent alcohol related death of Kings College student, James Webster, was again a topic of disucssion as the court case unfolds this week. One particular individual, who currently has name suppression, a 17 yr old who had supplied the alcohol to James in this case found himself the subject of one particular element of this 'headlines' hookline'. Despite his name suppression, in relatively non explicit terms, the report focused on the incongruence of his statement in court and what had been said + posted on his facebook page. Without revealing his name or profile, the reporter discussed how he had bragged about his extensive heavy drinking and apparent lap dances and drinking in a strip club which was posted only a month ago.
Yet in court, the teenager could be heard, through name suppression ordered voice distortion, to proclaim he had really learnt his lesson through this tragic incident, which had occured on the 9th of May this year... Clearly this is one example of just how much many people seem to overlook the real life implications of their behaviour online. Despite the name + voice suppression, I think it would be fair to say that anyone with close involvement to either this tragic accident or the proceeding court case, would likely not need to see the face or hear the voice of this person to identify them. Considering the limited other cases which have related to social media, we certainly wouldn't be surprised if this individual were to face legal repercussions as a result of such online disclosures.
Whilst such digital record in this case potentially could face argument in an attempt to to be thrown out of court as inadmissible, one may assume a significant degree of this argument would rest heavily as to the location, validity and accessiblity of the public to these posts. It is easy to imagine a situation where the admissibility into evidence of facebook posts could depend on what privacy settings were used! Regardless, even in such case where these posts may potentially not be admissible and as such ignored by the courts, judge + jury, clearly this does not exclude attention from the media. Even if not relevant to assessing this particular individuals creditability and/or responsibility in this case, its pretty safe to say the courts don't tend to like it when statements made in court are not consistent with out of court records.
Considering recent case rulings, the precedents set have considered online postings to be just as public from a legal perspective as printing such comments onto flyers and distributing them in your neighbours letterboxes. Given the recent public ruling of blogger Whaleoil, (who ironically had been charged over revealing names of individuals in high profile cases that had been protected by the courts under name suppression) the judge stated that unlike conversations, online posts provide a written record which is publicly accessible.
We found some great insights and references from the awesome outline of the rulings from the Whaleoil case (Police v Slater) which was found on Kiwi Blog, developed by David Farrar. On here, he states that the rulings of this case "presumably applies to Twitter and Facebook also. (quoting the judges' ruling as) Even if the blog were to be accessible by means of subscription; with a login and a password it could well in my view be subject to the same constraints" (Farrar, 2010).
Makes you wonder how many people realise that what they say on Facebook really has real life impacts, it even could be brought against them in the courts...
Posted by Jess Maher,
(8 Oct, 2010)