imgresWhat lessons can people using social media platforms take from this week’s high-profile prosecutions of the two so-called ‘trolls’ from the North East? While their behaviour is undoubtedly at the extreme end of the spectrum, there are still legal dangers which ordinary users need to be aware of.

It’s hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the young man from South Shields and the woman from Newcastle who this week admitted sending rape and murder threats to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez via Twitter.

John Nimmo, 25, and Isabella Sorley, 23, sent what were described in court as “vile” and “horrific” messages on the social network following Criado-Perez’s successful crusade to have a woman featured on the new £10 note.

But even responsible social media users can all too easily find themselves in hot water and should consider their actions carefully, advises a Manchester expert.

CEO at mmadigital, Dez Derry, warns that even well-intended remarks can be taken out of context: “While this is an extreme case it certainly highlights the issues that can arise with not considering your actions on social media.

mmadigital's Dez Derry

mmadigital’s Dez Derry

“The popularity of digital channels like Twitter has enabled many to respectfully debate and discuss differences of opinion with people they wouldn’t normally come into contact with, so a user must always consider if what they are saying could be considered defamatory or insulting to the recipient. For example, the jokes and name-calling you might use amongst your friends may not be suitable for use in online conversations.

“This case, and that of the troll who bullied Olympic diver Tom Daley online, are of course the top end of the scale for social media abuse but it does show that the police and the courts do take activity online seriously and so, while you should always try to be yourself, do consider how your behaviour might be viewed by others.”

Professional life

The fall-out from a Twitter storm can also be damaging to your existing career or even future job prospects. Last month’s equally high-profile sacking of US public relations executive Justine Sacco, after tweeting that she wouldn’t get AIDS in Africa because she is white before boarding a plane from London to South Africa, highlighted just how quickly an error of judgement can escalate.

Derry advises: “Consider differences in culture, upbringing and even language which can all lead to your well-intended remarks to be taken the wrong way. While they may not lead to you ending up in court, your employer may have issues with your social media activity if it could potentially embarrass them.

“The golden rule is to think twice before hitting send. If what you are saying is something you wouldn’t normally say to your boss or older family members then it’s probably not something you want to say online. Remember once it’s on the internet it can be very hard to get rid of so prevention is always better than cure.”