Misuse of social media can ruin personal and professional relationships. *MCT photo
Misuse of social media can ruin personal and professional relationships. *MCT photo

FRIDAY, JAN. 13: Social media has taken the world by storm – but instant communication has its downside, particularly on a small island like Bermuda.

Cases have shown that posting before you think can cause grief to relatives of the dead — who find out about their loss before the police get to them — and can cost people their jobs.

Police Assistant Commissioner David Mirfield said: “Social networking is instantaneous and is now part of everyday life, however there has to be a line drawn between the intrusion onto people’s private lives, their grief, and when it impacts negatively on the investigation of crime.

“To try and police the cyber networks is impossible, and not practicable for even the largest police service. We can appeal to moral codes and ethics, however, if irresponsible individuals choose to use social networks as a tool of destruction and harm we will endeavour to identify the author, and consider a prosecution.

Malicious rumours

“Examples could include inciting a criminal offence, fueling a hate crime, endangering the lives of witnesses or indeed spreading malicious rumours regarding persons responsible for criminal offences.”

Mr Mirfield spoke out on the issue last year, after the October murder of 18-year-old Malcolm Outerbridge on the Railway Trail in Warwick.

Mr Mirfield said that, within an hour of the killing, a name and photograph which was claimed to be that of the victim was being circulated by mobile phone – both were wrong.

He added: “We continue to discourage the dissemination of unconfirmed information by the public or the media, as this can cause unnecessary distress.”

Well-known Bermuda blogger Carla Zuill said: Every time someone young or well known passes, I cringe when I see them named within a short time of their unfortunate death.

“We are now living in a time where we are so used to instant communication that it seems like many forget that these victims have families, some of whom have no clue of what has happened.

“It’s a horrible way for them to find out about their loved one’s death. I would implore them to put themselves in the victims’ family’s shoes and ask themselves: ‘Would I want to find out this way?’ “

She added that negative comments about work or employers on social media like Facebook could cause people enormous problems if they failed to take account of the potential pitfalls of posting.

Ms Zuill said: “It’s employment suicide — why bite the hand that feeds you?”

Employment law expert Kelvin Hastings-Smith of legal giants Appleby said: “I’m not aware of any cases directly involving this kind of issue in Bermuda, but there was an incident a couple of years ago involving a member of my own profession where there was a social media comment in the middle of a trial which had repercussions.

“Social media is certainly an issue which should be taken very seriously, although there are two sides to it. One is that people should be allowed to use social media responsibly – but others say that they don’t want anything about our company online.

“Social media is one of the best tools for tracking people down and finding out about them. In divorce cases, husbands have pleaded poverty, but boasted online about their wealth.

“People should not post anything that they don’t want just anyone to know about. There are things that people do which can come back to haunt them.”

Mr Hastings-Smith added that employers now routinely checked social media to help assess applicants for jobs.

He said: “When people are young, they can get drunk and get photographed in silly poses – employees do due diligence and they will think twice if they see something like that.”

He added that people could even lose their jobs if they were seen to be acting inappropriately in images and postings on social media.

Mr Hastings-Smith said: “People should also be careful who they invite on to a social site – your boss might be nice and friendly, but he’s still your boss.”

He added: “The issue of finding out about the death of loved ones on social media sites is absolutely irresponsible on the part of the people who post that.

“They do it because they want to be important and say “I was the first one to break the news’ – but it is appalling and should not happen.”

• What do you think? E-mail feedback to reporter Raymond Hainey: rhainey@bermudasun.bm or comment below.