Fringe Box



Opinion: Social Media and Free Speech

Published on: 3 Aug, 2013
Updated on: 3 Aug, 2013

Social-Media-MarketingBy Martin Giles

Two questions for you. Do you use Twitter? Do you know the law on libel, defamation etc?

The chances are that you have answered ‘yes’ to the first and ‘no’ or ‘I think so, roughly’ to the second.

The trouble is, unless you avoid social media like the plague, most of us are publishers these days. The McAlpine case made it clear that every tweet is subject to the same law as the contents of The Times, The Sun or Private Eye.

Judging by recent national stories some still seem to regard tweets and and Facebook comments the same as a chat down the pub where prejudice, rumour, gossip, outrageous accusations and idle threats are the norm for some.

Opinion Logo 2Even at the pub these kinds of comments are distasteful to many of us and can be damaging. Most of us simply move away or gently challenge the views expressed.

Mostly, of course the stuff is not too over the top and we can remain friends with someone even if we disagree completely with what they say, especially if the views are impersonal. If we are honest we all gossip, to some extent.

But there is a crucial difference between a pub conversation and social media. One has a limited audience and is relatively private: who would advocate lawyers patrolling our hostelries (hope I don’t give them ideas). The other is there for the world to read and actually more accessible than anything printed on paper.

We can’t all be lawyers and we should not wish to stifle comment, debate and conversation but a good rule of thumb might be ‘is this something you would be happy to say face to face to the subject who knows who you are?’

Some of the threats referred to in the media recently are not only outrageous they are literally criminal and should not be uttered, regardless of the medium.

When we started The Guildford Dragon NEWS we did consider whether we should allow anonymous comments as many other publications do. There is no doubt that where anonymity is allowed the comments can be more numerous, controversial and provocative but they can also be insulting, inaccurate, even puerile.

They can also be illegal and we are, of course, responsible for everything published in The Dragon.

So we determined that our policy would be only to publish comments where a credible identity had been provided and which we had moderated, to ensure that the comments complied with the established rules that newspapers enforce in their letters pages.

On reflection we are pleased with our decision. No one’s free speech has been unreasonably constrained and our intelligent readership can still write comments that are reasonably controversial and provocative.

Free speech is one of our most precious rights, something we should reflect on every time we look at a war memorial, it has a cost. But as with all rights there has to be responsibility, something we all should all remember before the courts have to remind us.

See BBC article : What can and can’t you say on Twitter?

Share This Post

Responses to Opinion: Social Media and Free Speech

  1. Peter Bullen Reply

    August 3, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Although I’m one of the few who avoid social media like the plague, as a retired journalist I completely endorse what you say about the dangers of rash, harmful comments in any form of publication.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *