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Publication bans apply to social media too, reminds Dalhousie law professor

Professor Wayne MacKay says there is a big gap that needs to be closed between social media and the law
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Police are warning people about the dangers of posting information from criminal cases on social media after a controversial online post. 

On Wednesday, the post was spread 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. 

One of the five people facing charges was also 17-years-old. Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, there is an automatic publication ban on names and identifying facts of minors, a law which the post violated. 

Dalhousie professor Wayne MacKay says that publishing this kind of information can have lasting consequences. 

"People don't know how serious it is," he said. 

"In a high profile and quite horrendous case like this Yarmouth one, there's kind of a desire and great interest in what happened, so they may even be thinking there's an element of vigilante justice here in publishing these names, but first of all, it might not even be correct," he said in an interview with NEWS 95.7's Sheldon MacLeod. 

While publication bans are observed by all members of the media, such as journalists and their editors, it's often forgotten that social media is also included in the ban.

"The laws apply regardless of what media you're talking about," he said. "The information is getting out there, and in fact given the prevalence and wide audience for social media, it's getting much more publication by having it on social media."

He says because so many users post on social media without thinking, there is no realization of the possible consequences, such as serious penalties and charges of breaking a law. 

MacKay says he's not sure the best way to spread the message.

One way, he suggests, is to lay charges more often when the law is broken. 

Another way is education, but according to MacKay, the resources and information aren't widely available. 

"Just as a small example, I went to Google to look for what the penalty was for breaching a publication ban under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and (found) all kinds of other information, but nowhere could I find actually what the penalty was," he said. 

MacKay says there is a big gap that needs to be closed between social media and the law.

"I still think people surprisingly, think that social media is a more private conversation. It's not. Once it's out there into the digital world, it's available for all kinds of people to see and that's what we kind of forget," he said. 




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