With the ever-growing popularity of social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram it is important to take a step back and consider your use of them. You need to make sure that you and your children not only control the personal information that is put onto social media but also your behaviour on such sites.

Control your information online

 Be aware of the potential for cyber-enabled fraud. Fraudsters can use information obtained from such sites to commit identity theft. Telling everyone about your forthcoming holiday may also be an advance initiation to a burglar – it is surprising how much information we reveal about ourselves over a period of time.

If you have children you also need to be aware of the dangers of persons contacting them and then grooming your child, building an emotional attachment to them with a view to a meeting for the purpose of sexual abuse or exploitation.

Many online games allow for messaging between users – do you know who your child is talking to?

Control your behaviour

 Many offences can be committed in the heat of the moment, or drink, the typing of a comment that cannot then be taken back.

Trolling, or sending abusive messages online, can be an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003, with stiff penalties in both cases.

Revenge porn, for example publishing intimate images of an ex-partner without their consent, is now a criminal offence and often results in a prison sentence.

What may seem to be banter may actually be offensive, what may be intended to be seen by a few could be seen by thousands.

A fake social networking profile or account may also be a criminal offence in certain circumstances.

What about freedom of speech?

 This is not an absolute right and may be restricted where necessary and proportionate.

 Think it couldn’t happen to you?

 Remember the Robin Hood Airport case? A young man made what he intended to be a jokey comment about blowing up the airport if he couldn’t make his flight due to adverse weather.

He found himself in court, was convicted by magistrates, and again on appeal before finally his conviction was quashed at a second High Court appeal. By then he had already lost his job as a consequence of the conviction.

 What are the consequences?

 Social media has even recently been blamed for an increase in knife crime as it can amplify the effect of violence. Accordingly, online offences are being dealt with seriously.

Last year the Crown Prosecution Service updated its policy statements in order to take account of the increase in online abuse, saying that individuals need to appreciate they can’t go online and press a button without any consequences.

At the other end of the spectrum, saying something unpopular or unpleasant is not unlawful, people’s sensitivities need to be balanced with free speech, and we see reported a number of cases that cause us concern.

This tide of sensitivity could result in people pleading guilty when in fact they are not – always take early advice.

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