I STEERED clear of Twitter and Facebook for as long as I could.

I think they both had the potential to be a force for good but instead became a force for something a lot less than good.

I have ranted in the past about people living their lives in the virtual world and feeling the necessity to post the minutiae of their existences.

But the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal confirmed my deepest suspicions.

It involved the collection of all the personally identifiable information of 87 million Facebook users.

It transpired Cambridge Analytica had actually started collecting your personal information in 2014. The data was allegedly used to attempt to influence voter opinion on behalf of politicians who hired them.

When it was discovered, Facebook apologised following the public outcry and called the methods of collecting the data ‘inappropriate’.

Inappropriate indeed.

If you are a regular Facebook user – and let’s face it a lot of you are – the chances are you have published more details about your life to the world than you told your doctor.

Then we come to Twitter.

As long ago as 2013, the BBC felt it necessary to publish a guide to stop people falling foul of the authorities when using Twitter but it took a high profile case last year for the law to become clearer.

Writer and food blogger Jack Monroe was awarded £24,000 in damages after suing columnist Katie Hopkins, who in a series of tweets implied the poverty campaigner had defaced a war memorial.

The ruling is currently the most prominent case in English law involving libel on social media and in explaining the verdict, the court published a ‘How Twitter Works’ guide.

Lawyer Mark Lewis said the ruling proved there was no such thing as a ‘Twitter outlaw’ and that the Twittersphere was not the social media equivalent of a lawless cyber Wild West.

He said: “Hopkins claimed that Twitter was just the Wild West where anything goes. The judge has shown that there is no such thing as a Twitter outlaw.”

Too many people are completely ignorant of the law and think that when they post on Twitter or Facebook it is the equivalent of talking to their mates down the pub.

The ruling in the Hopkins case has laid that myth to rest. The fact is you are responsible for what you write.

Yet a visit to some of the popular Facebook groups in town prove that message still hasn’t got through.

On more than one occasion over recent weeks, I have seen posts – including pictures – of individuals accused of theft.

I have witnessed accusations about companies and individuals fraudulently ripping off their customers.

Now it may well be that those thefts did take place and the ‘Facebook accusers’ may well be able to prove it. And maybe those posts about dodgy workmen are doing us all a favour.

But by the same token, the posters might just have libelled someone.

But most disturbingly I saw a post ‘warning’ parents about a man acting suspiciously in a swimming pool.

By the time everyone had had their say – without any evidence – the man had been tried and found guilty by a social media lynch mob.

I hope he has a good lawyer because if he believes he is identifiable, he would have a case for libel.

Every professional journalist knows and understands the law of libel and is very unlikely to write anything that breaks those rules.

Put simply, journalists know they are accountable.

My advice to the keyboard warriors hiding behind the anonymity of their Twitter handles and fake Facebook profiles is get yourself an up to date copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists which will tell you what you can and can’t write.

You may find you are not quite as anonymous or untouchable as you think you are.

Failing that, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you would say the contents of your post to the face of whoever you are posting about. If the answer is no, don’t post it.

As my gran would say: “Least said, soonest mended.”

By our columnist The Fly in the Ointment