Fresh off a case in which a lord targeted thousands of Twitter users for libel, a school in the U.K. is teaching kids how to avoid defaming others on the Web.
Taunton School in Somerset now teaches students aged 13 and 14 about libel risks on Twitter, Facebook and other networks. (The minimum age to join most social networks is 13.)
The introduction of the classes follows a widely publicized case in which Lord McAlpine, a former Conservative party treasurer, sued several Twitter users after he was wrongly named by thousands of Twitter users in connection with child abuse allegations.
Coverage of the McAlpine case led school officials to start teaching students about libel and defamation, along with pointers on how to avoid being sued. Classes on using the Web and social networks, which may be extended to older students, started with learning basic Internet safety, Carol Manley, a senior teacher at the school, told the Guardian.
"We've become increasingly aware as a school that university admissions tutors are now accessing Facebook sites to check up on students," she said. "We've been trying to make them accountable—if you wouldn't say something to a person's face, if you wouldn't say it in front of me or your parents, then you don't say it."
Manley added that students can be sued for defamation by someone living just around the corner as easily as a celebrity can take someone to court for dragging their name through the mud on Twitter. "Students need to know that whatever they say may just come back to bite them," Manley said.
With police forces reporting around 5,000 crimes related to Twitter and Facebook over the past four years, breaking the law seems easier to do than ever despite prosecutors being handed new guidelines on how to deal with such cases.
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