Column: Beware of the many pitfalls of Facebook

It seems everyone's a critic these days. You just have to log onto Twitter or Facebook to see folk spouting their opinions all over the place, many of them unfounded and unsubstantiated. But if you read it on Facebook then it must be true, isn't it? I write a weekly column for a series of newspapers, but unlike most folk, I've received training in what I can and can't legally say. Also, every word I write is checked over before it appears in print, but the internet gives free rein to all sort of numpties who think they can say whatever they like and it will go unchecked. Let me tell you, it doesn't. I'm all for free speech (after all, I've been a journalist for 28 years) but some things are strictly out of bounds. Everyone has the power to speak freely, but with that everyone needs to write and post responsibly. So, in order not to land yourself in hot water and whole heap legal trouble, here's my handy cut out and keep guide:

Even if you know the victim of a rape (or sexual crime) you must never name them or provide enough incidental detail so they can be identified. Never harm someone’s personal or professional reputation. Do not comment on on-going court cases, because they could land you in the dock. Never involve children in your commentary because they are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves.Once your comment is out on the internet it is always traceable because others will copy, paste, and sometimes repost, even if you later decide to remove it. The pitfalls of commentary on social media became apparent with the story of Yorkshire beautician who was jailed for four months and banned from driving after she asked Facebook friends if they’d take her speeding points for cash. Sheree Siddall, 30, from Yafforth, subsequently paid a stranger £300, but unwittingly the internet trail had already led her into a whole lot of trouble. The plan by was foiled after her Facebook plea was read by a police officer, who, ironically, was one of her clients. To make matters worse, Siddall’s selfie (pout and all) also pictured her sunglasses, which captured a reflection of the steering wheel and road ahead. She was not only given an eight-month driving ban, she also admitted perjury at York Crown Court. Afterwards, a post on her business Facebook account read: 'Due to unforeseen circumstances Sheree will be unable to work for the next two months.'

So, before you press that button consider it, make a cup of tea, and think before you speak. I rest my case.