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Tweeters and bloggers might create work for people in lawyer jobs

Posted by: Laurence Simons 13/12/12

It's easy to become nostalgic for the good old days of journalistic integrity, when newspaper reporters were paid to go out and find stories about things that were happening and then write about them, rather than for sourcing and uploading images of male celebrities with no shoes on to shady websites.

The recent publication of the Leveson report has heightened this sense of nostalgia, with many leading journalists warning that shackling the press with too much regulation will make it too difficult for them to produce hard-hitting copy about Jennifer Aniston and compete with social media outlets such as Twitter.

However, Lord Justice Leveson recently used a speech at Melbourne University to warn that online-only modes of expression, including social media, should not be considered to be outside of the law - a belief he described as "pernicious and false".

He insisted there was an important difference between mainstream journalists and bloggers or tweeters, given that the former have a reputation for accuracy to uphold when reporting on events.

Unfortunately, the peer claimed, there can be a tendency for less-scrupulous sources to drag the mainstream media down to its level, with standards slipping as both sides scrabble around in the gutter looking for a well-sourced and accurate story about Lindsey Lohan's choice of tights.

"In order to steal a march on bloggers and tweeters, they might be tempted to cut corners, to break or at least bend the law to obtain information for stories or to infringe privacy improperly to the same end," explained Lord Leveson, shocking an audience convinced of the moral propriety of all newspapers.

With this in mind, he called for creative thinking about how the law can be applied equally to all news sources, including Twitter and Facebook.

Lawyers in private practice are certainly going to need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of social media, with several high-profile recent cases underlining the fact that saying outrageously untrue, racist or unverifiable things on the internet is no longer actively encouraged.

Confirming that some football fans can be intolerable whatever the medium, a 15-year-old boy was arrested after the Manchester derby for aiming a racist tweet at Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.

The boy was arrested on suspicion of a racially-aggravated public order offence, and has since been bailed.

While this is all enough to create a powerful yearning for the days when all messages were sent by pigeons or semaphore, social media's pervasive influence means legal experts are likely to read a lot of tweets over the next few years.