How Should Capacity To Use Social Media Be Assessed?

Author:Mr Alexander Shah
Profession:Wrigleys Solicitors

The internet, and particularly social media, can provide disabled persons with a great opportunity to express themselves, learn new skills and information, locate support, and interact with others. Sadly, it is not without its dangers.

The NSPCC reported this month that over 5,000 online child grooming offences were recorded by police in England and Wales. Children, however, are not the only members of society that are vulnerable to malicious users. In the recent linked cases of Re A: (Capacity: Social Media and Internet Use: Best Interests) [2019] EWCOP 2 and Re B: (Capacity: Social Media: Care and Contact) [2019] EWCOP 3, Cobb J has tackled the issue of assessing capacity for internet use and social media contact in vulnerable adults.

A is a man in his 20s with impaired social adaptive and executive functioning, living independently with substantial social care support. For several years there have been concerns raised about A's use of social media to share intimate imagery of himself with unknown individuals. Staff working with A also report that A has a compulsion to search for pornography, with an increasing tendency towards websites displaying paedophiliac and extreme illegal activity. A's literacy levels and understanding are extremely low, and he is assessed as being unable to read or understand the content warnings displayed on pornographic websites.

Sadly A has previously been the victim of rape and, during the related investigation, police and social workers became aware of A's browsing history. The investigation also uncovered evidence that A had made contact with a large number of geographically discrete strangers, some of whom were known sexual predators and offenders. Rightly, concerns were raised at that time that A was at risk of a) abuse, and b) unknowingly committing offences relating to illegal imagery.

B is a woman in her 30s with learning difficulties and epilepsy, living with her parents and sibling and in receipt of some community support. Cobb J noted that “she is somewhat socially isolated”. Over the past three years, concerns have been raised to adult social care workers about B's sending of intimate imagery to strangers via social media. B has also provided personal information to these individuals and, it is suspected, has sent money to them. As with A, B is known to have made contact with individuals with offending history in this way.

More recently, B's behaviour has brought her into contact with a male in his...

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