Technology
#WatchYourStatus: Social Media Status Updates Lead To Arrests, Fines, Legal Proceedings
November 20, 2012
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Two women in India were arrested over a Facebook comment on Monday.

The comment was about the shutdown of Mumbai following the death of politician Bal Thackeray.

21-year-old Shaheen Dhanda wrote: "People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a 'bandh' [shutdown] for that."

Her friend Renu Srinivasan "liked" the status update. And that was enough to get them both arrested for "promoting enmity between classes."

If there was a law like that on North American social media, you can't help but think Mitt Romney (and maybe Stephen Colbert) would be serving several life sentences by now.

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Some members of the media in India have come out strongly against the arrests. The Times of India ran this headline: "Shame: 2 girls arrested for harmless online comment: "Shame: 2 girls arrested for harmless online comment." They called the arrests "a clear case of abuse of authority."

This isn't the first case of people being arrested in India over electronic communication.

In October, Ravi Srinivasan (no relation to Renu) was arrested for a tweet criticizing the son of India's Finance Minister. And back in April, the West Bengal government arrested a teacher for emailing his friends a cartoon critical of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Both men have since been released on bail.

India's not the only country where the rise of social media is leading to legal action. In Britain, a politician announced plans to sue at least 10,000 Twitter users for spreading false information about him.

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Lord McAlpine was implicated by the BBC's 'Newsnight' program in a child sex abuse scandal. The only problem? The allegations were wrong.

His accuser, a former home care resident, apologized unreservedly for falsely naming McAlpine, stating that he had been mistaken. The BBC has since reached a settlement agreement with McAlpine, paying him $293,000 in damages and apologizing for the incident.

Now his lawyer is rounding up Tweets that repeated the allegations against McAlpine, and says he plans to sue all the people who wrote them or retweeted them.

According to the Independent, the legal team wants individuals to pay a nominal sum of at least $8 to children's charities, but celebrities who tweeted the allegations would be dealt with separately.

If the case goes to trial, it will involve the largest number of defendants in British legal history.

And earlier this month, a man was arrested for posting a picture of a burning Remembrance Day poppy on Twitter.

The Kent Police made the arrest, sparking a lot of backlash on Twitter.

Tom Williams, tweeting as @TomWIlliamsIsMe, wrote: "The scary thing is, the man wasn't arrested for burning a poppy - that's not illegal. He was arrested for putting it online."

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, criticized the arrest: "This case highlights the urgent need to reform a law that poses a serious risk to freedom of speech after several ludicrous prosecutions in recent months."

Also, in July of this year, a 17-year-old man was arrested over Tweets he sent to the Olympic diver Tom Daley, who competed in the London Olympics.

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Prior to his swimming events, Daley talked about how his late father was his inspiration. When Daley and his teammate Peter Waterfield finished fourth in the men's synchronized 10-metre platform diving event, Twitter user @Rileyy_69 sent this: "@TomDaley1994 you let your dad down I hope you know that"

The Tweeter apologized for his comments via Twitter later that day. He was arrested under Britain's Malicious Communications Act 1988.

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According to Jill Lawless of the Associated Press, critics of the existing laws governing social media and communications in the UK say "they are both inadequate and inconsistent."

Many charges are made under the 2003 Electronic Communications Act, which was drafted before Facebook or Twitter came into existence, and is based on a 1930s statute written to protect telephone operators from harassment.

There are plans in the works to draft new guidelines for social media prosecutions in the UK, according to Britain's chief prosecutor Keir Starmer, who added "I think the threshold for prosecution has to be high."

Many people in other countries have also been jailed, fined or penalized recently over social media comments.

Check out our round-up of a few cases, including CFL defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell, who was fined for violating the league's social media policy, Fazil Say, a pianist in Turkey on trial for "insulting Islam," the suspended Twitter account of a neo-Nazi group in Germany, and four people detained for defaming Bahrain's king on Twitter.

Related:

Twitter And Censorship: What Does Freedom Of Speech Mean In The Social Media Age?

Neo-Nazis Silenced: Twitter Blocks An Account For The First Time Ever

Tweet Seats? Some Theatres Introduce Dedicated Twitter Sections

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