Is the law applicable to social media? Your first response may be, of course not, what could someone do on social media that is against the law, except for possibly hacking accounts? Well, hacking into another person’s account is against the law, for a number of reasons including the very obvious breach of security for personal information. But, you may be surprised to learn that there are a lot of laws that apply to social media.
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Is the Internet even governed by the law?

Actually, it is. The Internet is just another form of communication, and any form of communication is subject to the law. Whether you threaten someone over the phone or in person, it still breaks the law. What leads people to start believing that things on the Internet are not governed by the law is mainly due to a lack of prosecution and policing. If you murder someone in a shopping mall then you are likely to be arrested quickly.

If you murder someone in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, then it is unlikely that you will be caught right away (or at all). Moreover, there is certainly not going to be a police car waiting around the next iceberg (an iceberg is a big chunk of ice in the sea, which were quite commonplace until global warming started happening).

The Internet is an Atlantic ocean that is full of people, but very few police. The fact is that it is so big that it is difficult to police. The second fact is that even very serious crimes such as blackmail and extortion are not only ever brought to trial; they are mostly never even reported.

Make no mistake; if you have broken the law on social media, then you have broken the law. Just because you were not caught, reported or prosecuted does not mean you have not broken the law.

The grey area of the law for social media

There is a very grey area regarding the law and social media, and that is to do with employee harassment, bullying or posting of inappropriate content. This also applies (in part) to employees posting things about clients or customers.

Where the law is clear is when it comes to insider trading. The things you post on social media may be used to manipulate stocks and shares prices, and may also be used to give insider tips to other people. This is definitely against the law and is policed quite heavily after the fact (after the insider trader has made his/her millions).

Many companies now have a policy that allows them to fire employees if they post inappropriate content about other employees or customers. This is legal in most states because social media is a public forum, and if an employee could be fired for talking negatively about a customer/co-worker in a crowded room, then he/she may certainly be fired for posting it on social media. But, as for prosecution, it is often difficult to prove libel in any terms that will make it stick in court.

Quite often the person being libeled (being defamed) will have to prove some sort of suffering before being able to take the aggressor to court. Most cases are fought in small claims (or similar) courts, were monetary compensation may be given to a limited extent.

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Are people ever prosecuted for things they did online?

Britain currently has the highest rate of people facing criminal charges with regards to content posted on social media. This is mainly because their press is very aggressive and it has lead to online laws being tightened. Plus, they only have a population of 63.2 million to police; whereas America has 1210.5 million people to police, (China has 1354 million). In 2012, there were criminal charges brought against 650 people in Britain for content posted on social media.

What constitutes breaking the law?

There are a lot of things that constitute breaking the law, with most of them being the same laws you could break offline. For example, if you lend a DVD to a friend, then that is legal. If you burn a copy of your DVD and give it to your friend then that is illegal. Therefore, if you copy your DVD and upload it on social media for a friend to download, then that is breaking the law (the same goes for sharing sites).

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Here are a few laws that the people in Britain broke in 2012 and faced criminal charges. Be aware that many British laws are part of American law thanks to being grandfathered in, or through collaborations between America and the United Kingdom (Britain), as they are our only real allies at this point.

Libel is one that has had a few people face criminal charges. The victim proved that damage was done in a number of ways such as losing a spouse or job. Others even proved that damage was done by the simple fact that the social media post was shared by so many (e.g. Re-tweeted).

Some people were reported and prosecuted for s*x, drugs, child abuse and terrorism charges. These involves things such as showing images of young or abused children on social media, giving advice on bomb making, inciting religious hatred, images of drug use, and the posting of s*xually explicit material for people underage or without the consent of those involved (yes that is against the law, so think again if you are planning to take revenge on an ex).

Breaking court orders was a common one that saw people in court, and it is one of the more common ones in America. If you are ordered (for example) not to contact a certain person, then writing on their social media wall or sending them a private message is a breach of the court order. This even involves little things such as clicking “like” on their Google+ or Facebook profile.

Another of the most common ones in America and the UK is threats or offensive comments. Few of these are ever brought to court, but a tenacious victim or lawyer may happily pursue criminal charges. And, if you did it, then they can prove it, even if the comment is deleted from the social media network (so beware of what you write). Content you write on social media may also be viewed as harassment, which will land you with a further criminal conviction.

Author’s bio:

My name is Sonia Jackson. I write for that provides well-written and quality essays and research papers for college and university students.

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