Political blogger John Graham Kerlen, who writes under the name Olly Cromwell, was recently convicted of sending a series of ‘grossly offensive malicious communications’ through Twitter. His words were directed towards Melvyn Seymour, a Bexley Heath councillor, as a result of a longstanding dispute with Bexley Council. In the tweets, Kerlen referred to the councillor as the C word, and posted an image of his house, accompanied by the message “It’s silly posting a picture of a house on Twitter without an address, that will come later. Please feel free to post actual shit.”
Kerlen has always been a controversial internet presence. He previously received a ‘prevention of harassment’ letter from the Metropolitan police about his blog, ‘You’ve Been Cromwelled’, a site which is again particularly critical of Bexley Heath council. He was also contacted by his blog hosting company, who were acting on behalf of the Metropolitan police, asking him to edit inappropriate language on his site, or have it removed. As a result of this, Kerlen simply chose to move his site to an offshore hosting account.
However, as a result of his tweets, Kerlen was arrested in October 2011 for harassment and incitement to commit criminal damage, and found guilty of the charges in April of this year. He now has a restraining order, which not only stipulates that he can have no contact with Mr Seymour, but that he cannot write any blogs or social media posts that contain critical material about Bexley Council. The Council has said that it is supportive of freedom of expression and political debate, but that “Kerlen’s actions went beyond the limits of what is both acceptable and reasonable”.
Whilst Kerlen’s story is an extreme tale of caution about freedom of speech and online content, it is relevant to every individual and business using social networks, blogs, and various other kinds of online media. Blogs, particularly those employing effective SEO and digital marketing techniques, have proved to be hugely effective corporate tools. Although it is highly unlikely that any company would reproduce the sort of content that Kerlen was convicted for posting, the story is still a pertinent reminder to businesses to write and publish only useful, valuable content that remains within best practice guidelines.
Last year’s update by the Advertising Standards Authority has tightened the rules applying to misleading advertising, so they now extend to businesses’ online communications, including their websites and blogs, as well as all marketing communications they make through social networking sites. The rules apply to all businesses, regardless of sector, company type or size of organisation. It is therefore important that all businesses are aware of the guidelines applicable to their online material, and to ensure that any content that they post is accurate, inoffensive, and always on the right side of the law.