Social Media and Legal Action: themeet140 Debate

TheMeet140 Debate Glasgow

themeet140 Panel Debate Show: "Question Time meets Top Gear"

I had the privilege of being invited, along with with Matt Roper (STVs digital news editor), onto the panel of the inaugural themeet140 debate show. This was hosted on 23 May by 29 Studios (who filmed the debate) with Michelle Rodger directing questions and challenging the audience. The topic for discussion was: Should comments made on social media sites be subject to legal action?

themeet140 tweetup is “a very pleasant, random crowd, gathering every so often in cities near you”. Founded by Mark Jennings and Chris Hall “themeet140 is for everyone, it brings people who’ve met through social media together, but it’s not specifically a social media event. It’s low-key, laid-back fun with no pressure to be anything but yourself.”

After Mark Jennings left Glasgow, for the bright lights of London, Michelle Rodger took over hosting themeet140 in Glasgow. Michelle continued the tradition of these great social events that put faces to Avatars in real life.

Now Michelle has taken the concept to a new level with themeet140 panel debate. Described by Michelle as “Question Time meets Top Gear: the studio-style proximity and humour of Top Gear with the quality of panelists and discussion normally associated with Dimblebot’s QT”. And this was very much what it turned out to be. Do watch the video:-

Other shorter videos made by 29 Studios on the night, including one of me giving my post show thoughts on the new look themeet140, can be watched at moviecom.tv.

The general feeling from the audience on the night seemed to be that social media would be best policed by the users who would call out abuse that would be dealt with by the platform provider or by due process of law as appropriate. There was little support for the idea of ongoing moderation by the social media platform providers. It appeared to be recognised that the law was in its infancy in this area and was developing all the time. There did not appear to be any support for the idea that comments made on social media sites should not be subject to legal action. I wondered whether we should be introducing education on the consequences of inappropriate social media use at school.

I mentioned a couple of specific Twitter cases:-

  1. The ‘Twitter Joke’ Trial. Carl Gardner did a very good post at the time of the appeal hearing on this: Today’s “Twitter joke” appeal hearing. Proportionality is clearly the key here and the judgement is awaited with interest. Update – 30 May 2012: The two Judge court in the Twitter Joke Trial could not reach agreement on a decision and have therefore ordered a re-hearing of the Appeal before a three Judge court.
  2. Ex-cricketer Chris Cairns wins £90,000 libel damages.

These are both English cases. There have also been some cases in Scotland. For example:-

Just the day after themeet140 debate another Scottish Twitter case came before Glasgow Sheriff Court with a man being sentenced for posting a bullet threat on Twitter about Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell.

This is how the law develops, with cases such as these. There is no doubt that we will see many more of them.

Highland Lawyer, inspired by tweets leading up to themeet140 debate, produced a blog post on Cyberspace – the lawless mirage.

themeet140 has kicked off an interesting debate on the subject. We have no doubt just scratched the surface in our 20 minutes or so on air. Do keep the debate going whether you are in Scotland, England or elsewhere on the world wide web.

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