Social Media and the Y.C.J.A. – Revisiting Identity and Privacy in the Digital Age

On Monday, CBC Ottawa broke the news that a 16-year-old from Barrhaven is facing 60 criminal charges related to “swatting,” which apparently involves placing 9-1-1 calls in the hopes of attaining a large emergency response.

The boy is allegedly behind thirty false alarms across the continent, including fake bomb threats at schools in Calgary and Milton. According to the CBC, he also allegedly used Twitter to take requests for future targets.

In both the print story posted to the website, and a broadcast story run on the evening news program, the boy’s suspected Twitter handle was made public. On the broadcast, images of the account’s feed and recent tweets were also displayed. Judy Trinh, the CBC correspondent who reported on the story, also tweeted a link to the story including the handle of the accused. Within a couple of hours of the story breaking, other Twitter users began to reply to past tweets from the boy, many of them discussing hi future in jail.

Twitter ethics journalism

Here’s a screenshot of CBC reporter Judy Trinh’s tweet which links to the accused’s Twitter account. The handle was faded out by me.

Others who apparently knew – or at least followed – the accused, included his first name in tweet streams linked back to his account.

This is where things start to get dicey.

A portion of Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act deals specifically with protecting the identity of young offenders. The law states that trial information can be published in media or print, but that any identifying information about the offender, especially his/her name, cannot. There are a few exceptions, but none satisfy this specific case.

So where does social media come in? Obviously, as the account was anonymous, the general public and future employers will be unable to identify the accused in this way. However, if even one person who knows that the account is tied to a specific individual, does that not violate the spirit of the YCJA?

I don’t have the answers, but this certainly isn’t a new problem. The Ryerson Review of Journalism tackled this issue back in 2009 when Facebook became an issue with the Stefanie Rengel murder. Back then, the issue was seen to lay more with bloggers, early adopters of online citizen journalism, or just ordinary people who didn’t identify as being media-like in any way. This is evident in a quote from Christie Blatchford, then with the Globe & Mail:

“If everybody is a journalist, then everybody plays by the same fucking rules”

But with how integral a part of daily life social media has become in the five years since that case, especially among youths, we need to revisit this act and better clarify its rules and regulations in relation to the web.

Have an opinion or a better understanding of how the law relates to social media? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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