It has become increasingly clear that, in the matter of policing and restraining social media, the judiciary and the courts system remain at the horse and cart stage. The delusional King Canute belief that a court order can effectively put a brake on the excesses of social media for doing what it has been created to do continues to be exposed for the fallacy which it is.
Social media is more clever, more nimble, more lethal, and – most dangerously of all – more anonymous than any other form of news circulation. The speed of its information dissemination makes it impossible for a demand for restraint to be effective. Once a posting makes its appearance – be it true or false, libellous or benign – it takes wings, and all the court orders in the world won’t stop it.
Such has been the case in the aftermath of the Ana Kriégel murder trial, where the courts tried in vain to suppress the posting of online material that would identify her killers.
Facebook and Twitter had been called before the courts to be injuncted against publishing material that might have done so. But that injunction was rapidly amended when the two internet giants pleaded that they were not publishers in the legal sense and could not know in advance what postings were going to appear on their platforms.
The amended injunction removed the (impossible) requirement to prevent in advance the hosting of material that might identify the killers, and merely retained the section which required them to remove the postings, once they became aware of them.
Since then, the question of whether Ana Kriégel’s murderers should be openly named has become a widely debated issue.
Under the Children’s Act, the media is prevented from reporting the name, address, or even the school attended by a young offender, while there is a specific ban on photographs that might in any way help provide such information. Under specific conditions, the court may dispense with the restriction entirely, as was the case in the UK in the horrific trial in 1993 when Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, then aged ten, were found guilty of the abduction, torture and killing of two-year-old Jamie Bulger.
Throughout that hearing, the accused had been referred to as ‘Boy A’ and ‘Boy B’, but at the end of the trial, the judge lifted reporting restrictions and allowed the names to be released. He did so, he said, because the public interest overrode the interests of the defendants. There was, he said, ‘a need for an informed public debate on crimes committed by young children’.
Whether the same criteria should apply in the case of the gruesome killing of Ana Kriégel has needs to be considered.
It surely goes against the grain of natural justice that her killers should be shielded from exposure while every facet of the life of the innocent victim was laid bare for public consumption. And if the judge in the English case saw fit to publicly name the ten-year-old murderers, how much less can be the justification in giving two 13 year olds (now 14) the privilege of confidentiality?
And there is, in the Kriégel case, the added danger where a guiltless third party was wrongly accused on social media as being one of the killers. In the frenzied speculation and rumour running in the local community of Leixlip, it was inevitable that some blameless youngster would be wrongly accused of involvement. The naming of the guilty would quickly have brought such rumours to an end.