One story that appeared in the news this week was hugely clickable. The headline: Vlogger filmed pug’s Nazi salutes – Sky News took you to the story of Mark Meechan, a man found guilty of teaching his girlfriend’s dog to do Nazi salutes and posting a video of it to YouTube. Meechan posted the clips in 2016 and before it was taken down it was viewed more than 3 million times.

Meechan was ordered to pay £800 for committing a hate crime, and clips and images of the pug, Buddha, responding to statements such as “Sieg Heil” by raising its paw were used in reports by the BBC, Washington Post, Telegraph and others.

Need for digital literacy

The story raises interesting points about freedom of speech, (Ricky Gervais tweeted about the case). But what hasn’t been discussed so much is the issue of digital literacy and the legislation which led to Meechan appearing in court.

Meechan was charged under the Communications Act 2003: Section 127 covering the improper use of public electronic communications network. His ill-advised pug video was considered grossly offensive because it was “anti-Semitic and racist in nature” and was aggravated by religious prejudice.

While Meechan argued that he uploaded clips of Buddha as a prank to annoy his girlfriend and did not intend to grossly offend, the fact some people could have found it indecent or obscene was enough to land him in the dock.

It comes a week after teenager Chelsea Russell was also convicted under the act for ‘sending an offensive message’ after she quoted lyrics by the rapper Snap Dogg on her Instagram page in tribute to a 13-year-old boy killed in a road accident. Russell was given an eight-week community order and had to pay £500. Both cases highlight a lack of digital literacy or understanding of how current law works.

Living in a ‘sharing culture’

We live in an age where we frequently create and share our own and other people’s content online. A Columbia University study found 59% of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked, which means people could be putting themselves at risk in the digital space. While we might hear about the dangers of revenge porn, sharing graphic images and cyberbullying, many people are unaware that sharing personal content potentially be illegal. And it is not just social platforms, the law extends to email and other forms of messaging.

We as media educators must ensure future content creators have a level of media knowledge that keeps them on the right side of a law. At ScreenSpace digital literacy is at the heart of our educational ethos. All of our students cover issues of virality, audience engagement, and with it law and ethics. In an era where we have never been more connected, we have never had to do more to safeguard audiences and advise the digital entrepreneurs of tomorrow.