Twitter Posts Are Not Private: What are the Implications?
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 9 February 2011
The article published on the BBC News Web site yesterday seemed unambiguous: “‘Twitter messages not private’ rules PCC“. This news item summarised news published by the PCC, the Press Complaints Commission, which ruled that “Material that is published on Twitter should be considered public and can be published“. The context was a complaint by a Department of Transport official that the use of her tweets by newspapers constituted an invasion of privacy – apparently the official, who was named in the article, had tweeted about “being hungover at work“. But even though she had a clear disclaimer that the views expressed by her on Twitter were personal, her tweets were published in the press. An article in The Guardian provides further information – it seems that the Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday) published this information. I must admit that I find it unsurprising that the Daily Mail has used this as an opportunity to have a dig at the public sector. But what are the implications of this ruling for the rest of us? Some thoughts:
- It’s pointless saying one’s (public) tweets are personal if you tweet in a professional capacity. The press can publish such information and use this as an opportunity to have a go at you and your host institution. This is the standard type of advice which is given to students using social media, but perhaps we forget to think about the implications for ourselves.
Twitterer emptorCaveat Twitterer! – as perhaps the various footballers and cricketers who have been fined for tweeting inappropriate remarks would echo.
- This news does seem to validate reuse of tweets. Martin Hawksey, who developed the iTitle Twitter captioning service will no doubt be relieved that it seems he does not need to obtain permission before reusing public tweets as will developers of Twitter archiving services (and note that in the JISC-funded developments to the Twapper Keeper Twitter archiving service for which UKOLN provided the project management we did identify that privacy concerns did need to be considered).
- However it should be pointed out that this ruling came from the PCC – it is not a legal ruling.
Good news which seems to validate reuse of tweets or a dangerous intrusion into personal space? What do you think? Should all organisation be providing guidelines not only on institutional use of social media but personal use, such as EDINA’s guidelines which were published recently (with a Creative Commons licence) which states:
EDINA, as part of the University of Edinburgh, is your employer and as such you have a legal and moral responsibility not to bring either organisation into disrepute. Maintaining the reputation of EDINA, EDINA projects, services and staff members plays a crucial part in ensuring the continuing success of the organisation. Comments, particularly those with a strongly negative or unprofessional tone, can have serious unintended consequences. It is therefore important to remember that what you say about your work, even in personal social media presences, can reflect upon EDINA.
Please exercise common sense over whether or not the space you are posting to (whether your own or as a guest post on another person or organisation’s blog or social media presence) is an appropriate space for discussion of work or work related matters. If in doubt, you can always ask your line manager for advice.
The Hounding of the Baskerville article in the Independent on Sunday is worth reading to provide a context to such discussions.