Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Online offenders! Twitter, Facebook and other social media being used to defame persons as political heat rises

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2016 | 1:00 AMGary Spaulding
State Minister in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Julian Robinson displays a poster to be used in the Cybersecurity Awareness campaign dubbed ‘Stop. Think. Connect.’

As the political campaign approaches fever pitch, a warning has been issued to persons who use social media to defame others.

State Minister in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Julian Robinson has issued a caution to social-media users who have launched vitriolic and sometimes defamatory campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

"The reality is that there are a lot of people who believe that once they are online, a different set of rules apply," Robinson told The Sunday Gleaner in the aftermath of the first forum of the 'social-media warriors' of the governing People's National Party (PNP) that outlined the course that must be charted as the campaign period intensifies.

Some of the major social-media platforms that focus on the political agenda in which members engage in robust debates include Speak Your Mind; Fair and Balanced; Jamaicans For Truth; and Politics Time.

Robinson, who is a deputy general secretary of the PNP, noted that defamatory commentaries appear to be on the rise in the online world. "A lot of things that I see online would fall into the category of libel and of defaming people's character."

He noted that every law that exists is applicable in the new Cybercrimes Act. "So, the laws of libel are equally applicable online as they are in the offline world," he stressed.

"The Cybercrimes Act speaks to malicious communication, which means if someone sends information or post something that is malicious or harmful in nature, then that's an offence," added Robinson.

He warned that impersonation is also an offence. "If I set up an account in somebody's name with their picture and pretend to be that person, that certainly would be a criminal offence," said Robinson.

The state minister also cautioned against using pseudonyms in an effort to conceal their identity in the perpetration of an offence. "Posts which tend to carry the nastiest comments tend to come from persons who are not using their real names," said Robinson.

He cited a case of a few years ago in which an individual, using a pseudonym, sent out emails defaming a number of persons.

"Eventually, based on investigations, they unearthed the identity of the perpetrator and the person was brought to book, so persons who use pseudonyms to make comments which are defamatory can be brought to book."

According to Robinson, the reality is that because of time and effort, many persons who are libelled or defamed on social media opt not to pursue some of the things that are posted online.

NORMAL CRIMINAL OFFENCES

He said while many would fall in the category of defamation of character, they are normal criminal offences that may not fall within the category of Cybercrime. "Those are just the normal laws which exist," he said.

New offences contained in the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 include computer-related fraud or forgery; use of computers for malicious communications, and unauthorised disclosure of investigations (tipping-off).

Provision for forfeiture of computer material used in the commission of an offence is also a provision of the legislation.

Robinson disclosed that his ministry is embarking on a public education campaign related to cybersecurity.

"This is primarily focused on warning persons of some of the dangers and some of the tips that they can employ to protect themselves online," he said.

"We may have to look at expanding that to include some of the precautions about what is acceptable and what is not because there are too many things I see online that are in breach of laws."

Robinson argued that any comment made online must be acceptable "on a loudspeaker from a platform in the middle of Half-Way Tree".

"If you are not comfortable making that comment publicly, do not do it on social media, which has such a far reach that it is even worse than making a comment in person," said Robinson.

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com