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A quick guide to online posting

Published: 
Monday, August 3, 2015
Law Made Simple

We now live in an instant society where every detail of our lives is shared and posted to 'friends' and followers. But what are the legal ramifications for posting on social media? Here are some quick guidelines.

Privacy 
The Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago guarantees an individual respect for his private and family life. People should be mindful of posting material which may infringe on anyone’s right to privacy.

Defamation 
The law protects an individual’s personal or professional reputation from unjustified attack. Any statement making such an attack may be defamatory, and the court may award substantial monetary damages to remedy the injustice of the statement. Any defamatory statements posted on social media, whether a text post, voice note, image or meme, or video, would be classified as libel, as these posts take a permanent form.

If your post can only be viewed by certain people because of your privacy settings, it may still be re-posted or re-tweeted by someone else, and you, as the original maker of the statement, would be at fault. Even if you delete a defamatory post, you can still be sued. The length of time it is visible and whether anyone else has re-posted it, or posted a screenshot of it, may result in an action being brought against you.

Harassment and Cyberbullying 
The Offences Against The Person Act Chap. 11:08 includes in its definition of harassment:
“making contact with the person, whether by gesture, directly, verbally, by telephone, computer, post or in any other way...” Posting on social media or sending harassing text messages are within the scope of this definition. Even if you post anonymously or create a fake account, once sufficient evidence is found, you may be prosecuted. 

Obscenity and (Child) Pornography 
Apps like Snapchat and Tinder have made “sexting” quite popular. The Summary Offences Act Chap. 11:02 criminalises obscenity and pornography of all forms, including taking, holding or sharing indecent photographs. Furthermore, the Children’s Act No. 12 of 2012 imposes heftier sanctions for pornography depicting anyone below the age of 18, whether “photograph, film, video or other visual representation, whether or not made by electronic, mechanical, artistic or other methods”.

Posting while Driving 
There is a compulsion now to text, post or take selfies while driving. It should be noted that holding a mobile device while behind the wheel now attracts a fine, pursuant to the Mobile Regulations annexed to the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act Chap. 48:50.

Intellectual Property 
You may run the risk of infringing the intellectual property rights of someone else if you post something which you do not have permission to post. If, for example, a soca artiste releases a new video on television and you record it on your phone and then post it to Facebook or SoundCloud, you may be infringing the artiste’s copyright. The same applies if you stream a television show via Periscope or Meerkat.

But what about your own rights? Every time you take a photograph with your smartphone or camera, you own the copyright to that photo. But as soon as you post it on social media, you may be waiving that right, depending on the terms of service of the respective social networks. Anything that you post online, even if to a limited audience, is no longer in your control. Always think before you post, to avoid getting into hot water with the law. —Jason Nathu

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