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‘Twitter ye not’ advice to be published on Twitter

Attorney General decides to make warnings public after high-profile blunders

4 December 2013

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The Attorney General is to take to Twitter to publicise warnings about the risks of contempt of court in high-profile cases. Previously the warnings were sent only to the media, on a confidential basis.

TV personality Peaches Geldof was the last person to hit the headlines for careless tweeting, after naming two women who allowed their babies to be abused by Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins.

Sex abuse victims have lifetime anonymity and South Wales Police has said it is discussing the issue with the Crown Prosecution Service. Geldof deleted the tweet and has apologised.

A spokesman for the Attorney General Office said ten 'media advisories' were issued this year, the highest ever. However, he said only three were issued last year, and this was not necessarily part of a trend.

The advisory notes, warning people of the need to comply with the Contempt of Court Act 1981, will in future be published on the Attorney General's website and links will be posted on Twitter.

"In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk," Attorney General Dominic Grieve said today.

"That is no longer the case, and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media.

"This is not about telling people what they can or cannot talk about on social media - quite the opposite in fact. It's designed to help facilitate commentary in a lawful way.

"I hope that by making this information available to the public at large, we can help stop people from inadvertently breaking the law, and make sure that cases are tried on the evidence, not what people have found online.

"This change also brings more openness to government's dealings with the media so that both sides can be accountable to the public for what they do and say."

Amber Melville-Brown, head of Withers’ reputation management team, said: “There are anti-social consequences to social media. We need to wise up and educate the thousands of untrained ‘citizen journalists’ who now outnumber the traditional reporter, trained to some degree in the basics of media law. 

“The plethora of voices across the internet will not shut up where there’s a good story to tell, gossip to spread or opinions to impart - and free speech is a valued commodity in a democracy where that speech complies with the law and doesn't risk the rights of others.

“But we need to wise up to the consequences of our use of the internet. The Attorney General’s guidance should prove the first lesson in social media school that is badly needed to ensure that it can continue to provide a powerful service to society, rather than become an anti-social pariah.”

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