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A dog behind bars

Legal rights and responsibilities

The internet can be a legal minefield. While we may feel a sense of security in online anonymity, we’re not above the law. There are many complexities governing the legality of what we publish on the internet: we’ve seen how the right to privacy can lead to legal proceedings from an ill-thought-out tweet, and how we need to protect any data we hold about other people, but there are other laws that we also need to be mindful of as we operate online.

What laws do we need to be aware of?

Social media and online interaction allows us all to be journalists, researchers, and, effectively, online publishers. We’re publishing our thoughts and opinions to a global audience. Are we therefore subject to the same laws of privacy, defamation, copyright, marketing, official secrets, (the list goes on), as traditional publishers?

The short answer to this is yes.

We need to think about what we are sharing, and ask ourselves whether it is in line with the legislation that governs creative outputs, the use of other people’s data, human rights and other legal rights. But unlike many large publishing firms, we haven’t got our own legal team, nor are we likely to have a fighting fund to pay any legal fees that may come our way, should we do something that turns out to be questionable in the eyes of the law.

And it’s made more complicated still by the fact that we are publishing our thoughts globally. It would be impossible to go into detail of all the laws across more than 200 jurisdictions that we potentially need to consider when we are publishing online. But below is a list of some useful resources that you may want to explore should you need to find out more about the law:

Human rights: freedom of expression and private life

Information security and data protection

Intellectual property

Marketing and advertising

Don’t be put off going online due to all these legal complexities. We’re subject to just as many legal complexities in the offline world. If we behave in a socially responsible way, we should be able to avoid any unwanted interest from the law.

If you want to find out more about the legal issues around social media, Mark Pearson’s 2012 book, Blogging and Tweeting without getting sued, is a useful and accessible guide to writing online and getting your message across without getting yourself into legal trouble.

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This article is from the free online course:

Becoming a Digital Citizen: an Introduction to the Digital Society

University of York