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View profile for Casian Sala
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The recent spate of teen suicides allegedly prompted by cyber-bullying via gossip site Ask.fm has once again raised concerns regarding legislation to control malicious misuse of social media. As family and friends of the young victims campaign to have the Latvian-based site shut down, it remains for the courts and legal profession to establish a legislative basis upon which any potential court action might be based.

At present, the burden of responsibility and liability with respect to misuse of social media sites lies not with the provider, but with individual users, who may be found liable for a number of criminal activities:

  • Defamation, including disseminating damaging falsehood about other users or groups;
  • Intellectual property theft, including appropriating and disseminating the work of another person (photos, graphic design, text, music and other documents);
  • Criminal acts such as obscenity and harassment; and
  • Breaches of privacy, including attempts to access personal email or online banking accounts.

Withdrawal of advertising from major companies might go some way to prompting tightened control on the part of the web provider – but there are increasing calls for legislation which will oblige social media platforms to report and control potentially criminal activity undertaken on their sites.

Reluctance on the part of social media providers to go further than merely signposting users to law enforcement stems largely from concerns regarding cost and risk. The inevitable consequences of taking responsibility for policing use of social media include the financial burden of recruiting and employing staff, and  - perhaps most alarming for website providers – being ultimately liable if reporting procedures fail, with further tragic consequences.

As web users, web providers and the courts struggle to establish a clear legislative and reporting framework for dealing with malicious misuse of social media, how can firms ensure they are equipped to handle cases of this kind?

Key to case preparation will be the gathering and collating of evidence, much of which will inevitably be stored online in social media and email accounts, and in cyber chat-rooms. It is essential that firms consult litigation support professionals such as Legastat, who will advise on the best approach and can utilise eDiscovery software designed specifically to scan vast quantities of data and identify relevant evidence. Failure to engage effectively with the latest in legal tech can ultimately lead to failing the client – a risk no firm should be prepared to take.

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