Social Media: What happens when a 140 character tweet has the power to bring down the courtroom.


Social media is commonly seen as an open forum for the freedom of expression. Across a range of platforms people tweet, filter and post their opinions, thoughts and musings often without particular thought or regard to the effect or consequence of what they are saying.

In most cases, this is fine; after all, is tweeting an image of the secret stash of Percy Pigs I keep in my office draw really going to affect life and humanity as we know it? Probably not. However there are occasions when people get it spectacularly wrong and after a recent bout of celebrities finding themselves embroiled in legal cases,

The Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC is in the coming weeks to publish a guidance to social media users to help prevent them from unknowingly incriminating themselves by commenting on legal cases on Twitter.

Mainstream media has always had to conform to the rules and workings of the courtroom but as social media now plays such an integral role in society and is an invaluable tool for spreading information, the same rules must apply to social media as to the mainstream channels. In some ways social media holds even more power than mainstream media. A single 140 character tweet has the power to bring down a courtroom and the sheer speed of the transmission means that instantaneous damage can be caused. A tweet can be deleted quicker than a newspaper can be pulled out of print however the damage can be devastating, as Peaches Geldolf quickly learnt after announcing on Twitter the names of two women who were supposed to be protected by the courts. Her apology might have been truly meant but her ignorance in releasing the names of the women highlights the dangers of self-publishing and the very real consequence of having an opinion, a laptop and a gaping lack of knowledge.

Mr Grieve’s announcement is not intended to prevent or restrict social media user’s freedom of expression, but to advise and educate those who unknowingly abuse their position of power from behind the safety of a screen and a Twitter handle. With ignorance no longer acceptable as an excuse for breaching the law online, will this stop users from tweeting mid Pinot Grigio? Perhaps not. However it does mean that the word of the courts will ring louder than your ring tone and this is news that should be spread – and thanks to social media – it should spread fast.