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Twitter Users: A Guide to the Law

On 26 Feb 2013 at 4:33pm John Stockdale wrote:
There is a BBC article on their website on what you can and can't say on twitter some of which applies also to a forum like this one.

Check it out here »
On 26 Feb 2013 at 8:06pm Ed Can Do wrote:
I think most people on here are alright to be honest John. The only real issue is that of libel and if you look for example at recent threads about LDC, people are stating opinion like "Because LDC never communicate anything it seems as though there's something dodgy going on" or "It looks to me like someone at LDC is crap at their job", rather than any straight up libellous statements. I think we have a way to go yet before any of the nastier posts here fall foul of the malicious communications label.

A by-product of registration here would be that it would be marginally easier to track people down who did fall foul of the law but on the flip side, making posts visible to registered members only adds the protection of us not posting to the general public, adding another layer of defence should anyone seriously manage to get butthurt enough they'd sue someone from here.
On 26 Feb 2013 at 8:18pm expat two wrote:
In summary, those that can afford a protracted lawsuit can limit your right to express an opinion or pass on gossip. If you're poor, tough, you're fair game for anything.
Do you remember the days when people used to say "I can say what I like, its a free country".
On 26 Feb 2013 at 11:26pm Southover Queen wrote:
I disagree. Defamation occurs if someone's reputation is adversely affected by negative and untrue comments, whether published or spoken. A lot of what is said here makes my hair stand on end, and is frankly and quite clearly libellous. Putting "allegedly" into the sentence makes not a jot of difference.

And not requiring registration will make very little difference too since all our IP addresses will be stored against the posts and are easily tracked down with a court order. If the witless racists manage to write something intelligibly threatening or similar then it will be pretty easy for the old bill to track 'em down too. (I think they'll find a couple of truanting spotty 14 year olds, to be honest, rather than the new Master Race waiting to take control)
On 27 Feb 2013 at 9:31am John Stockdale wrote:
The BBC article goes quite a bit wider than defamation. I remember people revealing the names of the Baby P family on this forum. Times have changed since then and they might now find that treated as contempt of court if they did it again. I think we should be aware that gossip that was once exchanged at the bus stop with little risk, now carries a greater chance of being followed up when it appears in an 'online rumour mill'.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 10:36am Southover Queen wrote:
Yes, that would be contempt of court. Interestingly the article doesn't cover the discussion and publication of matters which are sub judice which I think would come under the same general heading.

There are also various laws in the UK which broadly cover "hate speech" which people break on a regular basis here as well. I'm no shrinking violet but I do find the willingness to be so offensive at so many levels surprising.

There is a difference between Twitter and this forum though, and that's the ease with which an unguarded or defamatory comment can be disseminated - if a person has a few hundred "followers" who all retweet a comment (as happened in the MacAlpine story) - then the potential for harm is hugely greater and the vulnerability to prosecution similarly enhanced.

Nevertheless I'd have thought that some of the comment, about LDC and its elected members and officers, was on very dodgy ground and would be quickly despatched by an efficient lawyer.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 11:44am Fact Based. wrote:
I would agree.
Although you are presuming that all the claims about dodgy goings on at LDC aren't true. Some are. For example the comment that some years ago LDC were wrongly advising Councillors to not speak with the electorate about Planning Applications unless an officer was present, or even at a public meeting etc etc is true, and is fully documented. Obviously LDC weren't too keen to publicise what they had been doing, and neither were the Councillors silly enough to follow such advice without challenging it.
Cllr Donna Edmonds has raised concerns about LDC, and she is a Councillor so should perhaps know. What exactly her concerns are, i have no idea, as she hasn't provided any evidence. If i were her, i would perhaps try and produce some.

On 27 Feb 2013 at 12:07pm Ed Can Do wrote:
You're also assuming that anyone skirting the wind as regards to potentially libellous or illegal comments isn't taking one or two incredibly simple steps to mask their IP address. Setting up an IP proxy takes minutes and if you're posting from a mobile, as I'm sure many forum-goers do, chances are your network assigns you a dynamic IP from a wide range, each time you connect, making you virtually untraceable. IP tracking is a really outdated and inefficient way to catch criminals online which is why the police don't catch a lot more child abusers online. The technology to hide your IP address far outstrips the technology to use it as an effective means of catching someone.

I'm not suggesting people do hide their IP address here, just that I know if I was going to say something I thought might get me in trouble, I'd make damn sure nobody knew who I was before I said it. Libel law relies heavily on the likelihood of people interpreting what you say as fact. If you print something in a newspaper, fair enough people will assume it's true. If you say it on a local message board and couched in terms that make it patently clear it's just your opinion, it would have to be someone with a lot of cash to throw away who would want to take that to court.

More specifically with LDC, one would hope that the PR people there would point out to anyone waiving a lawsuit around that simply being a bit more open about your actions in the first place would enamour the electorate far more than slapping them down with lawsuits when they dare question your skills/ethics/understanding of the concept of democracy. Also there's that old issue of it not being libellous if it's actually true...
On 27 Feb 2013 at 12:16pm Ed Can Do wrote:
Also, John, I'm sure you meant well with this thread but do you not think that a member of Lewes District Council coming on here in the wake of a lot of criticism of Lewes District Council to remind everyone how easy it is to get sued or locked up for being mean on the internet smacks just a little of the threatening behaviour that some people are criticising Lewes District Council for? I'm sure you meant to quell the horrific racism and trolling that's been going on but a paranoid observer could easily misconstrue your posts as a threat that if people keep saying mean things about the council they can expect to be on the receiving end of legal action.

Either way, I've briefed my legal team just in case.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 12:25pm Nixon Scraypes wrote:
I wonder if referring to the police as"old bill"is defamatory or a negative comment or could it be construed as hate speech? If I were to refer to a member of a racial or sexual minority using a mildly disrespectful slang term would it be hate speech?Common courtesy should be extended to all people especially if it comes under the law as in "hate speech".
On 27 Feb 2013 at 12:52pm brixtonbelle wrote:
'old bill' - defamatory or hate speech ? in what way ? Please explain.
As the Metropolitan Police give the slang term a web page explaining its various possible origins, none of which are deemed negative or offensive, I fail to see how this could be construed as such.

Check it out here »
On 27 Feb 2013 at 12:58pm Southover Queen wrote:
You make a good point, Ed, in that the extent of the defamation depends on its reach (which is why I believe MacAlpine is concentrating on Twitter users with big followings). Nevertheless, all that it takes for defamation to be proven is that someone's reputation has been damaged unfairly - unless, as you say, it's true. Also IP addresses are easily masked but I'm willing to be that most of the users of this forum wouldn't bother to do it deliberately.

I wouldn't want anyone to think that I'm not keenly interested in the goings on at LDC. I have no idea whether the personal gossip is true or not, but I do have really major concerns about the lack of accountability in Cllr Page's style of "cabinet government". I'm thoroughly disturbed by the complete lack of transparency into such matters as the sale for a really knock-down price of the tract of land near Newhaven, for instance. However I do worry that combining scandalous personal gossip with real questions about governance might actually have precisely the opposite effect and obscure legitimate enquiries. I do hope not: the known facts are quite bad enough for speculation to be unnecessary.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 1:19pm Nixon Scraypes wrote:
For once I can agree with SQ re the sale of the land in Newhaven.My guess is that the project will eventually be "unfeasable" and the land sold at a vast profit.Certain persons will be employed in an "advisory" capacity by the company with a fat salary as thanks.See the post parliamentary career of Blair.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 8:36pm 123 wrote:
Ed CD, perhaps John might like to clarify your point.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 9:05pm Noel Coward wrote:
Aren't there quite a few rather suspicious land deals being pushed through by the 'Nexus star chamber' (in reality LDC leader James Page and his subservient Chief Officer Jenny Rowlands). As Page is a property developer are there some questions to be asked? Any suggestions for questions that might be submitted to LDC via the freedom of information act would be warmly welcomed here.

As LDC staff are now barred from using this web site from work any suggestions from them will need to be submitted via their home computers to this site. Alternatively emails can be sent to bucketofspam@hotmail.co.uk. All suggestions will be treated entirely in confidence and real names do not need to be used.

The local press has no teeth (and virtually no reporters) and the local councillors (with perhaps the exception of Donna Edmunds) insufficient balls to investigate this (to be fair, that should say 'evidence'. It is not hard to work out that a that a number of councillors have serious reservations about Page). Which sort of leaves it to the public (us!) and those inside LDC who are unhappy at the way things are going to work out once and for all what's up..... if anything at all is up.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 10:01pm Cllr Donna Edmunds wrote:
"Which sort of leaves it to the public (us!) and those inside LDC who are unhappy at the way things are going to work out once and for all what's up..... if anything at all is up." - and then tell me about it so that I can do something about it!
I am currently trying to gather evidence regarding a few deals that have been done, to see whether there were any ulterior motives. However, it's quite time consuming and I'm no ace sleuth, so any help would be much appreciated. cllr.donnaedmunds@gmail.com
On 27 Feb 2013 at 10:14pm Prize Turkey wrote:
@Noel Coward, maybe forward any of the suggestions received to the organisers of the Councillor of the year awards for which Cllr Page is bizarrely nominated for.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 10:47pm Just_Sarah wrote:
Why would I bother to conceal my ISP, when it quite clearly demonstrates that I currently live in Brazil. I was in China yesterday. lolx
I've been travel hopping round the world for years after a very nasty encounter with a member of Lulzsec ( similar to anonymous in methods and motives ).
Mr Noel Coward? I enjoy your work immensely btw..can you tell me when LDC staff were banned from using this site? I did not know this.
And to John Stockdale's comments..I understand that you have changed party.
You are now a Liberal Democrat.
There used to be a political party called the Liberals, and significantly the Manchester Liberals, who believed in individual liberty above all other principle.
Anti war, anti Corn Laws, pro free trade - lightweights like Richard Cobden.
Would this be the same Liberal party that as an ex mayor, your heavy handed comments allude to?
Or the same party whose leader ( yes, it is still Clegg ) complains about the press being the driving force behind historic and appalling sexual harrassment by being "self appointed detectives". Ummm..duh!!!
Honestly, I swear I can hear Jo Grimmond spinning.
Shame on you.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 10:55pm Noel Coward wrote:
@Prize Turkey. Who nominated Page? Ms Rowlands?

@Just_Sarah. The word was 'barred'. LDC/Fastnet firewall restriction.
On 27 Feb 2013 at 11:22pm Just_Sarah wrote:
Noel? Presumbly this "bar" covers all social networking sites and recreational use of the internet? Facebook?
Oh I see..perhaps not.
>Sarah grins broadly
On 28 Feb 2013 at 10:48am John Stockdale wrote:
Ed Can Do and 123, I pointed up the BBC article because I had just read it and thought, in the context of Lord MacAlpine suing twitter users, that it might be of interest to contributors to the Forum. I didn't have in mind any of the recent comments on LDC - but I can see it's reasonable for Just_Sarah to have assumed this.
I think the Forum is a good thing in that it allows people to voice concerns and let off steam, sometimes on the back of ill-informed rumour. In my view it's better to know what's being said behind your back and be able to correct it. I think the rules about these issues are changing or at least clarifying - and it's helpful to know what they are.
On 28 Feb 2013 at 4:29pm I dont live in lewes... wrote:
Dear Mr Stockdale,
When you say "In my view it's better to know what's being said behind your back and be able to correct it." is that aimed at Cllr Page and the Nexus board?
Sorry to be dim.
On 28 Feb 2013 at 4:45pm John Stockdale wrote:
No Phil. I was writing in very general terms. In principle I would rather know what people are saying about me rather than be the last to find out because no one wants to upset me. As an opposition backbencher, I don't have much opportunity to get up to no good. So, I doubt if there's enough material for a rumour.
On 28 Feb 2013 at 6:02pm i dont live in lewes... wrote:
Dear Mr Stockdale,
Thank you for clarifying that. I'm sure you can see how I got confused.
On 28 Feb 2013 at 6:58pm Deelite wrote:
As we are here...

* Lord McAlpine has stopped pursuing the Twitter users (with the exception of the speakers wife)
* There's been a recent case where a northern council took a local blogger to court for slander and ended up looking very stupid (stupid and lots of publicity!)
* Although some of the stuff about Leader Page was not too great the majority of it is still here, so no lawyers letters appear to have been sent.

Tittle tattle on the internet might not be as threatened as you think.
On 28 Feb 2013 at 6:59pm Reasonable. wrote:
It is a a shame Cllr Page doesn't adhere to a similar policy, of giving tax payers and voters an idea of what he is talking about behind their backs. I am just stunned that my Councillors of all parties have let this happen, and continue to do so.
Maybe I should move to Cuba?
On 28 Feb 2013 at 7:26pm Independent Thinker wrote:
Just as a minor point, there are a lot more ways to identify a specific user than their IP address. I just did an anonymity test (link below) and my browser configuration, for example, which many if not most websites log is unique amongst the 2.7million who've taken the test so far. The fonts you have, screen size, settings, plug ins, cookies, etc etc. It's kind of like leaving fingerprints at a crime scene. Not trying to stop any whistleblowing, but you'd be foolish to rely on a disguised IP address for anonymity. Makes life harder for anyone trying to track your identity, but that alone doesn't do it.

Check it out here »
On 28 Feb 2013 at 8:00pm in the know wrote:
Most web servers will log only an IP address and possibly a session id that, if set by a cookie can persist over sessions. As this is an anonymous forum requiring no registration at the most this will be all that is captured in the server log. This means that even the people who run and host the Lewes forum can't tell who you are. Anyone with access to the logs cannot tell definitively either (even if they go so far as to contact the ISP that owns your IP address. IP addresses change each time you log on. There is also no guarantee that the hosts of this forum retain the logs. If they don't then there is no way that anyone could ever be traced with anything like the authority required by a court of law. If they do it's still extremely unlikely anyone could be traced... and an injunction would still be required gain access to the logs.

On 28 Feb 2013 at 8:42pm No Pot Pourri wrote:
I remember John Stockdale being threatened by Charles Style with legal action following John's comments on a website. John stuck by what he said, the bully backed down and the rest is history.
On 28 Feb 2013 at 10:41pm Independent Thinker wrote:
In The Know, just curious, I believe Webbo has said in the past that he's banned people on here. How does he do that if there's no way to identify who is posting? Same way I can only give a thumbs up or down to a post once, even if I've logged off, switched off the computer, and come back on another day. Surely that means there's some kind of identifying going on? While admittedly in my last post I should have said most sites "can" gather all that information, not that they necessarily do, wouldn't Webbo want to protect himself and the site by making sure he's in a position to ban people who clearly break the law on here (not suggesting anyone has, but theoretically). I'd have thought it's a dangerous game these days to run a forum without that option.
On 2 Mar 2013 at 1:44am Ian Hislop wrote:
I have to be very careful here, but perhaps it is worth pointing out that I am not the only person who knew that in a large, important family called McAlpine, confusions may have arisen. The cackhanded way the BBC got this so very, very wrong only means that it is now impossible to ever report this story again. The man who lived in Wrexham is dead. An innocent man has been wronged. But a cursory glance at the internet will show that the apple fell quite near to the tree.

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