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Social media - be careful what you say or send!

Social media - be careful what you say or send!

What is social media?

It is hard to define but social media includes: social networks such Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, messaging services such as Twitter, Wikipedia, video-sharing services such as YouTube, and photo-sharing services such as Flickr.

These forms of social media are electronic and let people communicate with one another using technology such as computers, smart phones and the internet.

Social media can be used to socialise and communicate and help you do things, for example, get a message to many people at once, or find a job, but you may not have thought about some of the problems it can cause for you.

Are you sure you want that information to be public?

Michael's Facebook entry about his boss

Michael wasn't happy at work. He thought his boss was picking on him for no good reason. One night he went home angry after work and posted some very negative, abusive and also untrue comments about his boss on Facebook. His boss saw his online comments. Michael lost his job.

Kerry's photos of her 18th birthday party

Kerry had a birthday party where she had too much to drink. Her best friend took some photos of her really "out of it" and Amanda posted them on her Facebook page. Kerry's mother saw them a few days later and suggested she take them down. Kerry did this.  Six months later she went for a job but didn't get it. She got some "off the record" feedback that she didn't get it because the prospective employer's human resources department did a Facebook search and came across her birthday photos and decided she wasn't the sort of person they wanted working for them.

Ken's 21st birthday party

Ken posted notice of his 21st birthday party on Facebook including his address.

On the day strangers showed up uninvited, gate crashed the party and vandalised the family home. The police ended up being called.

These examples show some of the unintended consequences of posting information.

Think before you post information, including photos or videos online, or send them to friends. Your privacy is important. There may be negative consequences for you now as well as in the future as once it is out there it can be in many places you didn't even think about. Remember friends can copy what you post and send it to people you don't know who could then send it to even more people. 

Information, videos and photos you send your friends through, for example, your mobile or smart phone, could be sent on to other people without your knowledge or permission. Australian privacy laws that may protect your privacy in relation to government and companies don't apply to your friends.

You might be happy for information or photos to be around now for friends but do you want it to be seen by your relatives or teachers, or by a prospective employer when you go for a job in five years or by your children or by a new partner in the future?

Some tweets and blogs have led to legal action for defamation. Compensation has had to be paid in some cases. See Things people say for more information on defamation.

What is "sexting"?

"Sexting" is the storing, sending to or sharing with others of sexually explicit information, for example, sexualised or naked photos or videos or text messages, on a computer, over the internet or by a mobile phone.

Can I get into trouble with the police for sexting or what I say through social media?

Yes. If you post something that is threatening or abusive to a person it may be a criminal offence. In some cases it may be criminal defamation. It may also be bullying. For more information on this see Things people say.

"Sexting" may be a criminal offence.  If the photo, video or text is about someone under the age of 18 (including yourself) it is possible it could be seen as child pornography. If you create child pornography, send it to someone and/or have it on your mobile phone or computer you could be breaking the law and face jail.

If you are charged and convicted of an offence involving a child you become a child sex-offender and your details go on a child sex offender register. You may also have to keep the police informed of your whereabouts and other personal information. Depending on the offence or offences these reporting requirements could go on for either 8 or 15 years.  With some offences repeat offenders have to report for life.

You should be careful about the sharing of sexually explicit material through your phone or the internet even with a consenting adult. Think about unintended consequences before you post, for example, the possibility of the material being sent on to other people. 

What if someone takes a sexual picture of me without my permission?

The easiest way to make sure that no one sees sexual pictures of you without your knowledge or consent is to refuse permission for them to be taken. If someone does take sexually explicit pictures of you without your consent it may be a criminal offence.  The offence will be seen as more serious if you are under the age of 18 (whether or not you gave permission). If you think a sexting offence may have been committed, contact your local police for help.


What if someone distributes a sexual picture of me without my permission?

Sometimes people consent to having sexualised pictures taken but not to having the pictures distributed, for example, putting it on Facebook. If someone has distributed sexualised pictures of you without your consent there are a number of things you can do. 

You can ask the person and other recipients to remove the pictures. You can also ask the website administrator to remove the images. It may be appropriate to report the incident to your local police or Crime Stoppers WA on 1800 333 000 if you think a crime may have been committed.

Various social media have safety centres where you may be able to get advice to help deal with a range of online safety issues, including cyberbullying, online abuse and protecting your privacy. Click here to see the contact details for some of these social media safety centres.

In some circumstances you may also be able to take legal action for "breach of confidence". An example of breaking your confidence may be a former partner publishing or distributing a sexualised picture of you in a way that was not intended, for example, by putting it on Facebook, after your relationship has ended. If you had confidentially shared the picture with your partner while in the relationship, putting it on Facebook after your relationship has ended might be seen as breach of confidence owed to you. If the court agrees, it could order the person to not publish the picture again and/or order compensation for the impact on you such as humiliation, anxiety and distress resulting from the publication. Get legal advice if you think this situation applies to you.

You can make an online complaint about offensive or illegal online content on the website of the eSafety Commissioner. Click here to go to this website.

I am a young person who has heard I need to be careful who I talk to online because of "grooming". What is that?

When an adult acts to build a trusting relationship with a child or young person through what they say in chat rooms, social networking, emails and so on with the plan of later arranging sexual contact, it is known as "online grooming".

Child sex offenders may get information about a young person from their internet profile and use that information to communicate with them. 

Young people need to be careful about who they communicate with online and should not agree to meet a person they have only met online.

See the ThinkUKnow or Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner websites for hints for young people on how to stay in control when using the internet or a mobile phone.

How long does my information stay on social networking sites?

It could live on in ways you have not thought about even if you think you have removed it. See the answers under privacy topic: Internet communications and other technologies on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.

Where can I get more information?


Last reviewed: 23/11/2016


Last modified: 23/11/2016 3:00 PM


The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.