Could you be put on trial for a message in one of your WhatsApp groups that you never even opened?
Well, if you don’t believe me, look at what happened to a senior police superintendent in the UK.
She was one of the most highly decorated officers in the force and she even received a medal from the Queen. She had also done sterling work in helping victims after the Grenfell fire disaster. Her name is Novlett Robyn Williams.
Her sister sent her a video of child abuse hoping this would help Robyn catch the criminal. That message was on one of the groups she was following on WhatsApp.
She claimed she was totally unaware that the message had been sent. But because there is a law in force that any message on social media can be used and disclosed during legal proceedings, this was used as evidence in her trial.
That message was sent to 17 people but the only person to face trial was Supt. Robyn Williams. Many people are asking if or why she was targeted.
She never opened it but the court found her guilty of possessing a child abuse video. She was also guilty of not reporting her sister for sending her an incriminating message.
The court sentenced her to 200 hours of community service and she will now be on the sex offenders register for five years. Her sister, Jennifer Hodge, will have to do 100 hours of community service. The original sender of the message was Hodge’s partner who received a suspended sentence of 18 months in prison and he will also do 100 hours of community service.
The question we all must ask ourselves is this:-
Are we aware of our legal responsibilities when messages/content arrives in our social media accounts?
The very least we can do is to delete it.
Then, we should report it when it involves child sex abuse. The best place to do that is the Internet Watch Foundation. They work with the police to make sure the images are deleted from the Internet and the perpetrators brought to justice.
Apart from child sex abuse, there are several legal traps we may not even be aware of.
Here are some precautions and must-know facts.
Stop spreading rumors about people.
About 50% of people in the 18- 25 age group were completely unaware that they could be sued for libel when they did this. They do not even know there is such a thing as the Defamation Law. The most famous case at the moment is Tesla owner, Elon Musk, being sued for tweeting that a rescue worker in Thailand was the “pedo guy”. That defamatory tweet went out to 22 million followers.
Even retweeting can get you into trouble. Deleting it may be too late because the length of time it was live on the Internet will determine the compensation you might have to pay.
Stop the trolls.
Here you may get baiting, menacing (even in a funny way) or insulting messages. Cyberbullying and cyber-stalking are common not to mention making threats to help identity theft. These trolls are all over the Internet and the origin comes from the mythical troll which was a mythical ugly creature.
You get the idea!
Several US states are introducing cyber-stalking laws. California was one of the first to do so in 1999 and Florida followed suit in 2003.
The safest thing to do is to ignore these messages and to block them. The Anti-Troll.Org site offers excellent advice if you want to take further action in stopping these people who usually have mental health issues.
Be aware of copyright laws.
No problem with your own photos but sometimes when you find a great photo, you may want to use it on your blog or website. If you are not the owner, then you are probably violating the copyright laws and that could land you in trouble. The same rule applies to videos and articles which were not used with the copyright owner’s permission.
Stop badmouthing and whining
If you are always on social media at work, you may get fond of complaining and saying how much the job sucks. Don’t! If your boss finds out that you are badmouthing him or the company, then that is the end of your next promotion. Not necessarily a legal issue but a very foolish strategy (if you can even call it that!)
Try to be nice
India is about to pass a law requiring social media platforms to actually monitor content so that fake news leading to violence, blasphemous or offensive language is actually blocked. An impossible task, I would say. With What’sApp, all messages are encrypted so that the sender and receiver can only read them. The company cannot do so.
So, the basic message is to avoid any language which is violent, hateful, insulting and opt for much kinder language.
Nobody ended up in court for spreading a little love and kindness!
But the most important take away here is to monitor carefully your WhatsApp groups so you can delete something which is even mildly suspicious.
“You are what you share.”
― Charles Leadbeater, We Think: The Power Of Mass Creativity