Know where the legal line lies in what you can and cannot say online

Attorney General's OfficeIf you need further evidence that social media is now very much part of the fabric of contemporary society, it comes in the form of an initiative by the Attorney General’s Office designed “to help prevent social media users from committing a contempt of court.”

Attorney General for England and Wales Dominic Grieve, QC, MP – the British government’s senior legal adviser – announced a change in government policy today about ‘not for publication’ advisories issued to the mainstream media designed to make sure that a fair trial takes place and warn people that comment on a particular case needs to comply with the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

[…] Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean that individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post. This is an exciting prospect, but it can pose certain challenges to the criminal justice system.

In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk. That is no longer the case, and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media.

In other words, anyone with an internet connection can now read publicly what previously went privately only to a small group.

You’ll be able to read future advisories on the Attorney General’s Office website and via Twitter – just follow @AGO_UK.

In his announcement, the Attorney General added:

[…] I hope that by making this information available to the public at large, we can help stop people from inadvertently breaking the law, and make sure that cases are tried on the evidence, not what people have found online.

It’s a good initiative as raising awareness that leads to better understanding will provide people with the opportunity to act within the law and, thus, avoid themselves being in the dock.

It may surprise you (or not) that quite a number of people seem to believe that you can talk about anything online via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook with impunity. Say what you like, it seems to be: there is little consequence from a quick tweet or status update.

Even in professions like public relations, awareness and understanding of what you can and cannot say publicly on social networks from a legal point of view is pretty low, as evidenced by an informal quiz during the Don’t Risk Litigation: Know Your Social Media Law session at the CIPR’s The Public Relations Show 2013 in London last week.

I participated in that session and took part in the quiz, along with the other 50 or so session attendees, being one of only five people left standing by the end of it, ie, we had the correct answers.

You can listen to that session including the quiz in this CIPR podcast:

(If you don’t see the audio player above, listen on SoundCloud.)

In the past, the Attorney General has issued around five advisories per year although the announcement notes that ten have been issued so far in 2013.

Whatever the number, make sure you’re keeping current with the law and social media, especially if you’re a communicator whose clients (or employer) would expect you to know where the line lies between what you can and cannot say online.

Related posts:

Filters and trust

Truth-O-MeterAs we get exposed to more and more information online, two elements assume great importance – filtering in the things we want to see; and verifying those things so we trust our filtered-in information along with the purveyors of it.

The former is easier done than the latter: there are apps, algorithms and all manner of technical tools to help you filter in what you want and, thus, filter out what you don’t.

Trust is a very tricky thing. Subjective, emotive and based largely on the things people say to one another, no one has yet come up with a method of automating trust that is convincing, reliable and, well, trusted.

Could PundiFact and the Truth-O-Meter be an answer? According to the US newspaper the Tampa Bay Times, yes, it could.

[…] The new site will have a dedicated staff of journalists who will research claims by media figures and rate them using PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. The fact-checks will be published on PunditFact.com and will often be featured on the main PolitiFact site.

[…] “Pundits on TV and radio, as well as bloggers and columnists, are prominent voices in our political discourse, yet sometimes they blur the lines between opinion and fact,” said Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Times. “Now we will hold them accountable, much as we’ve done with politicians.”

PolitiFact does have a track record of rating American politicians and what they say, presenting ratings in a way that you can, at a glance, see how particular public voices stack up on a truth scale. At least, according to PolitiFact.

trueorfalse

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is quoted in the Tampa Bay Times story with a resonating appeal:

I just want news I can trust, and PunditFact is a real contribution in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.

The bold’s my emphasis.

Maybe that’s the way to see this idea as one that’s “in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.” That sounds realistic.

I’d love to see a PunditFact for the UK!

Related posts:

A simple solution for EDF Energy’s marketing problem

EDFSo EDF Energy has told its customers it can only recommend lower cost gas and electricity tariffs on annual bills if they “opt in” to receive advertising material.

Reading the report in today’s Telegraph, I was pretty sure that EDF Energy’s intention surely couldn’t be a cop-out to telling customers about better energy deals. That is, to not tell them.

But the Telegraph goes on to say:

EDF last night said the Data Protection Act meant it was unable to pro-actively tell customers about cheaper deals. It said the clause was only supposed to effect customers coming to the end of fixed-price contracts.

And quoting a spokeswoman:

“If a customers has opted out of ‘marketing,’ Data Protection Act rules mean we cannot highlight the cheapest deals within the letter informing them of the closure.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me as though the Department of Common Sense at EDF Energy has closed down.

It seems to me that the Data Protection Act is also about consent: if you consent to a company doing certain things with your personal information, then isn’t that part of opting in?

Here’s a suggestion, EDF Energy.

How about a specific page on the EDF Energy website inviting customers to opt in to receiving information about cheaper deals? Or enabling customers to indicate that they’d like to receive information by email or in the post – or whatever needs to be said to comply with data protection and privacy laws – specifically about tariffs, prices and cheaper deals?

The invitation to opt in could say something like this:

[ ] Yes, I’d like to receive marketing emails or letters from you that will inform me of the choices I have in choosing an energy tariff at the best price. You promise that my opt-in to such communication will only be for this purpose: you will not spam me forever more with useless direct-marketing crap unrelated to choosing an energy tariff at the best price.

Okay, the final part of that last sentence probably wouldn’t make it. But I don’t see why EDF Energy can’t simply offer customers such an invitation to opt in to receiving “marketing” communication where it’s explained very clearly what it will include.

I bet they would get a huge take-up. You might even see some buzz building online showing EDF Energy in a good light about their common-sense approach to a thorny issue of rising energy prices and the negative opinions about energy companies that has got politicians all exercised and has even led to letters being written.

This isn’t a public issue: I’ve not seen any media reports about it other than in the Telegraph. A tweet or two here and there.

But such things have a habit of suddenly becoming a major issue and before you know it, you’re all over the media  – mainstream and social – for all the worst reasons. You might consider the Telegraph’s story as an early alert, an opportunity for EDF to address the matter before it evolves.

Proactive communication, EDF Energy, surely a simple solution that offers a big benefit. The customer relationship advantage could be significant.

Not to mention public relations.

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day

Amid the conflict, awful tragedy and human suffering constantly occupying centre stage in mainstream media reporting about the Middle East, one man tries to explain the relationship complexities of, among, between, within and without key countries, states and individuals;  and countries outside the region.

A short guide to the Middle East (photo)

Financial Times reader K.N. Al-Sabah writes a letter to the editor of the FT on August 22 to offer a short guide to the Middle East.

That’s the snapshot view on the day Mr Al-Sabah wrote his guide. It seems to me that solving Rubik’s Cube or finding a cure for cancer would be a breeze in comparison to truly understanding the landscape of conflict in the Middle East.

(Via BuzzFeed Politics)

Too much FUD and too little facts about fracking

Fracking equipment

If there’s one major issue of significant public interest today that’s shrouded in fear, uncertainty and doubt, it’s fracking.

If you believe the supporters of this mining process to extract natural gas and petroleum deposits from shale rock – formally known as “hydraulic fracturing” – it could be the salvation of our energy needs for the foreseeable future, maybe for the next forty years or more.

If you believe the opponents of fracking, it’s a major threat to the environment and to public health, causes earth tremors if not actual quakes and is not the answer to meeting our energy needs.

In the midst of all this FUD are governments looking for that political and economic Holy Grail of meeting energy needs that is low cost to do so, will create jobs, stimulate the economy and doesn’t have significant environmental impact, among other things. And might get the political party in government re-elected at the next election.

Who to believe? When trying to find some facts about fracking itself and the consequences of employing the techniques to extract the energy resources from the ground, what confidence can you have that the information you do find is trustworthy? Or rather, those who curate that content can be trusted?

For instance:

A few reports from the mainstream media (plus opinion in one blog post). But is it all just so much propaganda?

Seeing TV news reports of the recent protests surrounding the Balcombe site in southern England and the plans by Cuadrilla, an oil and gas exploration and production company, to carry out exploratory drilling to determine suitability of the site for actual fracking, I’m left befuddled and not knowing who to believe.

Even though the Balcombe protests look far too organized to be purely concerned local citizens – to me, it smacks of professional protesters parachuted in, so to speak, by a serious and well-financed organization, one with a big political agenda and little transparency in who’s behind it all – I’m also left with increasing alarm:  what if the anti-frackers are right?

Now take a look at this video I came across the other day, via Robert Llewellyn. I have no idea who the producer “Millie Thedog” is, what axe he or she may be grinding (or not), nor whether he or she is an information source I can trust. I have no information on that.

Yet this six-minute video presents a calm but disturbing assessment of the alleged impact of fracking in southern England if it actually happens, especially on the scale the video claims.

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

After watching the video for the first time, I asked myself: “Just because we could, does it mean that we should?”

Where’s the truth? Is it out there?

(Image at top of page via Cuadrilla Resources)

This story about PR qualifies for ‘must read’

Alastair CampbellEvery now and again, something is written or said about the practice of public relations, its development and evolution, usually with the phrase “this is a must read” attached.

In my experience, much of what’s described as “must read” is anything but, especially when the words “social media” are added; it’s just spin for the PR.

Now and again, though, something is written that you really must read for its clarity of thought, its intellectual excellence, its demonstration of innovation in strategic thinking, its simplicity in and clarity of that thinking, and its powerful insight.

Alastair Campbell has written such an item, published today in The Huffington Post.

In “Why the World of PR Is Changing,” Campbell – most widely known as the communications chief at 10 Downing Street during Tony Blair‘s tenure there – tells a compelling story about a topic that has occupied thousands of column inches and millions of pixels height and width, taking as its foundational introduction a difficulty he encountered in planning a trip to Australia and how it was resolved in a conversation via Twitter:

[…] the PR landscape, like the media landscape, has changed beyond all recognition, and that public affairs now covers any interaction between any two people or organisations. That exchange was between me, my phone, and a guy on the other side of the world who saw a relevant Aussie address come up, and who got a grip. No journos, no PRs, no marketeers, just someone with a sense of the product – in this case one person’s feeling for Australia – and an understanding it was worth stepping in. The product, large or small, is what will decide the strength or weakness of the PR. Strategy, to me, has always been about the joining up of dots to paint a picture in the public mind as close to the one you want them to see. @sandihlogan landed a dot on my Aussie landscape that erased the negative dots my application had been landing.

And the stark simplicity of this, reflecting on an interview he did with former US president Bill Clinton around the time his autobiography came out:

[…] Objective, Strategy, Tactics had always been No. 1 on the list of 10 guidelines for leadership and strategy that I had on a postcard I always carried with me.

  1. OST.
  2. Be bold.
  3. Be adaptable.
  4. Best team leaders are best team players.
  5. Stay calm in a crisis.
  6. Listen but lead.
  7. Get good out of bad.
  8. YOU set the agenda.
  9. Head above parapet.
  10. Visualise the victory.

These are but two insightful snips from  a lengthy post that in my book qualifies as “must read.”

Do read Campbell’s full story that, The Huffington Post notes, is from a speech he gave at the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs Annual Oration on June 27 in Melbourne, Australia.

It could be a terrific start point for making your own stories “must read.”