Remember when the press assumed Chris Jeffries killed Jo Yeats a while ago? He was never charged, and yet he was horrifically demonised in the papers and life will never be the same again for him. People are arrested and released without charge all the time. It could easily happen to any of us. I think we can all agree we shouldn’t be attacking people before they even get to court.
But we do. The internet is a funny thing; it grew outside of authoritarian radar, somehow giving users the impression that cyberspace is different to the real world, with different rules. But we need to remember that our online actions still have real-life consequences, especially when we behave badly en masse, as we seem to when there is a high-profile criminal investigation like the current Sian O’Callaghan murder case.
According to reports, a 47-year-old minicab driver named Christopher Halliwell has confessed and even shown police to a body.
Even if someone has killed someone, and even if they confess, they are not legally a murderer until they are convicted in court. If you call someone a murderer on the internet when they’ve not been convicted, that is libel (defamation, identification, publication) and that person could sue you. So why do people feel so comfortable calling for the hanging of “murderers” who have not yet appeared in court? The accused could end up suing everyone on Facebook, Twitter and any other site who branded him a murderer. (Elton John won a libel case against a newspaper for calling him gay before he came out, even though it later turned out to be true). Read the rest of this entry »