The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has ruled that messages posted on Twitter should be considered public and can be published freely.
Along with this announcement is the recent guidance from the Supreme Court, which is now happy for ‘live text-based communications’ to be used by journalists, legal representatives and the public in courtrooms. Electronic communication – emails, tweets, Facebook posts, blog comments and forum discussions – are also fair game for use in legal disputes, to be used as proof and a ‘digital fingerprint’ or ‘electronic paper trail’ for court cases.
Social media is moving even further into the public domain, and raises an unsurprising question about privacy. It’s safe now to assume that what is said on Twitter does not stay on Twitter… For seasoned Tweeps, this might seem obvious – even if you are not a follower of a particular user, you are still able to read their tweets – UNLESS they have locked them, in which case they are only visible to approved followers only. A realtime search for a Twitter user or a keyword brings up tweets in Google/Bing results; a retweet can send a tweet rebounding to hundreds of thousands of people; the butterfly effect ensures that one little innocuous tweet will not necessarily stay that way.
This was the basis of a complaint issued last year by Sarah Baskerville – an official of the Department of Transport – who claimed that the use of her tweets in the Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday was ‘an invasion of privacy’. The messages referenced being hungover at work and criticising government policy, and though she had not privatised her tweets, Baskerville claimed that she should have had a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ and that the information was not meant to be seen by anyone other than her followers. But even her disclaimer that her tweets and retweets do not represent the opinions of her employer did not protect the content from being public property, according to the PCC response:
“As more and more people make use of such social media to publish material related to their lives, the commission is increasingly being asked to make judgements about what can legitimately be described as private information.
“In this case, the commission decided that republication of material by national newspapers, even though it was originally intended for a smaller audience, did not constitute a privacy intrusion.”
So Tweeple, the lesson clearly seems to be: if you don’t have anything nice to say…. then at least make yourself anonymous, or lock your tweets to the public!
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