16 February 2009

Facebook, Suppression Orders, and Arsonists

Facebook and other social networking sites are more prevalent than ever and in most instances groups that spring up on these networking sites are hard to regulate other than for the owners of the sites to delete the groups as they appear. There might be some free speech issues here that I am not going to go into in detail. There are also some big picture issues with regards to how we view matters such as a fair trial, innocent until proven guilty, and the like.

This is the case after the recent spate of deadly bush fires in the southern Australian state of Victoria. Some of these fires are alleged to be deliberately lit with the aim of destroying property. The police made an arrest and there was an immediate suppression order slapped on the identity, address, and image of the alleged arsonist. A magistrate has since lifted the suppression order on the publication of the alleged arsonists name, Brendan Sokaluk, but the suppression order remained with respect to his address and image.

Nevertheless, the publication of his name meant that somewhere someone would know who he is. As soon as his name was published two Facebook groups were created publishing both his address and image. The man has been remanded in custody, and by all accounts is in protective custody in order to protect him from others that might be inclined to do him harm.

Interestingly, aside from the arson causing death and intentionally starting a bush fire charges, the man has been charged with a child pornography possession charge. It would seem that the police have found evidence to suggest that aside from a penchant for burning things, he is also into the collection of kiddie porn. Strange bedfellows, arson and child porn.

The problem with the Facebook groups is that they violate the suppression order. It is not a difficult argument to make that the Facebook groups would fall under the suppression order even if Facebook is not considered to be traditional media. If this was indeed to be made out then Facebook might find itself in contempt of court as the publisher, along with the author. And, the lawyers would undoubtedly be arguing that their client cannot get a fair trial because of the exposure.

I can understand that people need to vent their anger after such a tragic loss of life and property. However, in the aftermath I would also imagine that people would like to see justice done, and perhaps not vigilante justice, but that kind of justice that sees the perpetrator do the time for his crimes. If this is the case, then it is a risky proposition to breach the suppression order. Sometimes we just have to have faith in our judicial system that it will work and work well.

1 comment:

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