Social media has long been used as a public shaming tool to highlight perceived wrongful acts by individuals and organizations in an effort to get them to change their ways. In Spain, however, a new law has made it very risky indeed to use sites like Facebook and Twitter to expose the wrongdoing of others, or at least, of cops.
A resident of south-east Spain recently found this out the hard way, getting hit with a €800 ($888) fine after posting a photo on Facebook of a cop car parked in a space reserved for disabled drivers. According to the Guardian, the unnamed woman, who lives near the port city of Alicante, posted the image on her Facebook page together with the comment, “Park where you bloody well please and you won’t even be fined.”
Within 48 hours of the post hitting the Web, Spanish police spotted it, tracked the woman down, and fined her.
The recently enacted Citizens Security Law that got the woman into trouble prohibits “the unauthorised use of images of police officers that might jeopardise their or their family’s safety or that of protected facilities or police operations.”
Responding to questions from local media about why the cops had parked in the space, a police spokesperson said they’d been responding to a report of vandalism taking place in a nearby park, and that in such an emergency situation officers have to park wherever they can in order to ensure a timely response.
But how exactly did a Facebook photo of a cop car in a disabled parking space lead to an €800 fine? The spokesperson said the officers believed the woman had wrongfully damaged their reputation, adding, “We would have preferred a different solution but they have the legal right to impose the fine.”
The law at the center of the incident is seen by many as a move by the Spanish government to stifle political protest and has been criticized by Amnesty International, as well as judges, lawyers, and human rights experts.
Using it to send out a warning to Facebook users making police-related posts will surprise many, though it’s possible the woman will respond by appealing the fine.