Tweets can, may and will be used against you by the press

Tweets can, may and will be used against you by the press

9th February 2011

We all know that what we put on the web ‘never goes away’. At least, not for a while. So what we put on Social Media is something which we should think about. Don’t just throw party pics on there if you are right in the middle of getting that perfect job. Think about whether or not you really want to be calling someone names on the web. We all know that. Right? Wrong…

Unfortunately one of the issues with Social Media is that many think that what they put on the web is theirs and theirs only. They couldn’t be more wrong. Social Media allows others to take that public content and run with it.

For those who didn’t realize that it has now been made official by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in the UK. They responded to complaints about articles published in the Daily Mail and the Independent in which Tweets were placed from Sarah Baskerville, an official from the Department of Transport. She had tweeted to her followers about having a hang over while at work.

Ms Baskerville apparently believed that what she put on Twitter was not meant for the public and would not be read by others than her followers. The complaint stated that she believed she had a “reasonable expectation” that her messages would be published only to her at that time 700 or so followers. (Since this news came out through the BBC her number of followers almost tripled). She had even written a kind of ‘disclaimer’ in her bio, stating that this was her “personal account, personal views. Nothing to do with my employers. What I retweet I may or may not agree with.” It is remarkable that she didn’t understand since she seems to be a very active Social Media user if you look at her website.

She filed a complaint with the press regulator but was told there that she had no rights what so ever. The newspapers claimed that her Twitter account was not set to private and therefore publicly accessible. On top of that they also claimed that because of the position she had with her employer, combined with the requirements of the civil service code on impartiality they had every right to show the tweets. The PCC agreed, where “the publicly accessible nature of the information was a key consideration”. There was no breach of privacy here.

PCC director Stephen Abell told the BBC this was an important ruling:

“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.”

The ruling does mean a lot of things. It shows that what you put on the web is not just your own ‘property’. You have to think about what you put online and where it might go. The Internet is not a piece of paper. The ‘problem’ here lies in the understanding of many. Too much people still do not understand what might happen with the things they put online. That is where the priority should lie for regulators, industry leaders and even the tools like Twitter: making people aware of it. People don’t read the what is written in disclosures so we should find another way. The question is: how. We don’t want people to be afraid to put stuff online. They should just think about what they are doing.

Another reason why this ruling is interesting is that there have been many claims in the past towards search engines in which it was unclear wether or not search engines could be held responsible for the fact that personal information could be found on the web. This ruling might just mean that search engines can not be held responsible.


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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