Why the internet makes an ass out of the law

These old law books won't tell us the answer...
Do these old law books hold the answer? Doubtful.

Shane Richmond , communities editor for The Telegraph made some interesting points in a recent lecture on online journalism regarding the law.

My experience of media law has to date included a module for my BA in Journalism and the module I do now for my postgrad diploma. I’ve never been sued, and I’m hoping that, until the day I get employed by some hotshot magazine which has the weight behind it to fend off such things, I won’t be.

A few legal points for your consideration in such a context:

Contempt of Court

Article Six of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) says that everyone has the right to a fair trial . But with the age of Google, what’s to stop jurors finding out anything and everything about the person standing trial? Even worse, finding out about the terrible crimes committed by someone else with a similar name? At present (and any legal eagles can correct me here) I can’t see much way around this short of banning the internet altogether (bad) or banning jurors from leaving a room until the trial ends (impractical, bordering on torture).


As much as I’m addicted to Facebook, I do sometimes worry about the privacy implications. Privacy is another thing protected by the ECHR. I’ve now made the step to make sure my profile is private so that potential stalkers aren’t able to get easy access to my details, but there’s probably a whole host of other resources that would allow one to find me. Worrying.

Censorship/Free Speech

The Telegraph hosts several user blogs (through it’s My Telegraph platform) of which, none of them are censored. Shane Richmond says that the readers expect freedom of speech, to them it is important. Internet moderation is a tricky game to play, but in practice there are three ways to go about it:

  1. Read first (and allow approved stuff)
  2. Read later (and remove if necessary) 
  3. Don’t read at all (can be dangerous and brand-damaging).

The BBC makes use of the first technique, because obviously being the institution that it is, it can’t have any Tom, Dick or Harry posting nonsense on its website. The problem is, this kind of moderation is hugely expensive. Could the millions the BBC spend on this every single year be better directed elsewhere? The Telegraph, on the other hand uses a combination of all three for its blogging platform. The read later approach is probably the best because it allows for immediacy, but also ensures that standards can be upheld.

Defamation on the internet: Is it Libel/Slander?

Is it libelous (written form) or slanderous (spoken form) to defame someone on a blog forum? The thing is, forums are pretty transitory, and are more akin to a conversation. They do, however, have permanence and are searchable. The ramifications for libelling someone are a lot worse than for slandering someone, so it needs to be considered in order for the correct legal treatment. This blog  by Rhian goes into a lot more detail than I have in this paragraph – so you should read that instead…

So all in all, the internet’s made the legal system a touch out of date. And I’m not so sure it can catch up.

What do you think?


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