Police are again warning people about the dangers of posting information from criminal cases on social media.
On Wednesday, a post started making the rounds on Facebook naming five people alleged to have been charged by RCMP in Yarmouth in connection with the brutal and sustained assault of a 17-year-old girl.
Two of the five people arrested by RCMP have appeared in court and already been named publicly, but two others aren’t due to appear until February and RCMP haven’t released their names because charges have not yet been filed with the courts.
The fifth accused is 17 years old, and even though she has been charged, by law her name cannot be published because she is under 18.
Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said there have been no complaints filed with the RCMP about the 17-year-old alleged attacker being identified on social media, and no charges laid. She said a notice was posted on the force’s Facebook page warning people against publishing names of youths charged.
“Think twice, please,” she said.
Sharing could make you liable
Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay said the reasons people make and share posts that could end up affecting them personally or criminally is probably a combination of the immediacy of social media, anger over certain types of crime, and a digital mob mentality.
“I think we do seem to live in a society where people feel they have to share anything of interest, period,” he said. “They just share without too much thought about it.”
He said a lot of people probably are unaware of the potential consequences of violating a publication ban and the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
“The third thing that strikes me is that in such a high-profile and horrendous case, people may be taking it on themselves to create some kind of vigilante justice of sorts, that they’re going to name these people who, according to the allegations, have done some pretty horrible things.”
MacKay said it’s extremely easy for someone to look at a post online, be outraged and hit send without thinking of whether they should.
“They may not realize that they bear just as much liability in sharing the post as creating it in the first place,” he said. “A lot of people wrongly think, ‘Oh well, I’m just passing along something that somebody sent to me, so I didn’t do anything (wrong),’ but obviously in a case like this it has the same impact and broadens the number of people who know.”
He said people also need to be careful about sharing the name of the victim, because she is also considered a youth, and youth victims of youth crimes cannot be identified by law either.
Wayne said it will probably take charges being laid regularly, rather than warnings and public education, to stem the tide of people violating publication bans on the nternet.
“They don’t know what the consequences may be or if there will be consequences, so I think if there were some charges in some high profile media coverage, then maybe some people would think twice or be more informed of whether or not that’s something they should do.”
Clarke said she’s not sure what might work.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take, but hopefully articles like this will help to open peoples’ eyes a little bit.”