Unprotected Twitter posts fair game for journalists

Publicly accessible posts you make on Twitter are not private. As obvious as that might be, one British woman needed a formal adjudication to get that point across.

Sarah Baskerville, a government department employee, had made several posts on Twitter mentioning the fact that she had been hungover while at work, as well as making personal comments about people she had worked with. Two national newspapers reprinted these comments in articles about the views and behavior of public officials.

Whether such comments really count as news is debatable, but isn’t relevant to the legal situation. Instead, Baskerville claimed that it was a breach of privacy to reproduce the comments without permission. She complained to the Press Complaints Commission, which is the self-regulatory body for British newspapers.

According to the commission, Baskerville made two main points: that it was reasonable to expect the message would only be seen by the 700 followers on her account; and that her account was clearly labeled as a personal view that did not reflect her employers.

The newspapers responded by highlighting that, at the time they used the material, Baskerville’s account was not set to private and could be viewed by anybody online. (At the time of writing, that was still the case, although the account appears to be used exclusively for retweeting other posters.)

The commission has now ruled to reject the complaints. It said that not only could anyone have stumbled across the information, but the retweet feature of Twitter meant there was a strong possibility it would be seen by people other than Baskerville’s followers.

One notable point about the case is that the two newspapers stressed that Baskerville had openly used her own name rather than posting anonymously. That raises the question of whether the PCC would come to the same verdict were a newspaper to “expose” the person behind a Twitter account without permission.

Aside from the privacy issue, theoretically British law could be interpreted as meaning that reprinting the Twitter posts was a breach of copyright (a point Baskerville hasn’t pursued legally.) However a fair use clause allows limited quoting for reporting purposes, and it seems highly likely that in a message of no more than 140 characters, quoting a tweet in its entirety would be considered legitimate.

Advertisements
Advertisement




3 Responses to Unprotected Twitter posts fair game for journalists

  1. Sadly, this is why I try to minimize the work stuff I talk about on places like Twitter. After all, it is the internet. One must automatically assume that anything they say there, regardless of their settings, can and will get out to others not on the vouched list.

  2. This is just ridiculous! HOW MANY TIMES have stories like these been made public and gone around the world? The most famous one coming from the UK I believe. If you are dumb enough to post your REAL NAME and where you work and what you did the night before you deserve any and all ridicule you get. Seriously! If I was an employer and I read on Facebook:

    “Jenny & I went over to the corner pub last night right after work for happy hour and got smashed! We bitched about the shitty new boss until the place closed, Man, getting up for my job at Tide Inc is really difficult today – I can still feel the 10 margaritas I had last night… Who said you can’t have fun at 35? I totally got some action from a 21 year old – BUT hey I’m a lady so I don’t ask me how good of a kisser he was. Unless he doesn’t call me back than I’ll totally tell everyone! Feel welcomed to tweet part of this to your 3000 Followers but Journalist are not allowed to read me.”

    Yea right…. Two words – Your Fired.

  3. This is just ridiculous! HOW MANY TIMES have stories like these been made public and gone around the world? The most famous one coming from the UK I believe. If you are dumb enough to post your REAL NAME and where you work and what you did the night before you deserve any and all ridicule you get. Seriously! If I was an employer and I read on Facebook:

    "Jenny & I went over to the corner pub last night right after work for happy hour and got smashed! We bitched about the shitty new boss until the place closed, Man, getting up for my job at Tide Inc is really difficult today – I can still feel the 10 margaritas I had last night… Who said you can't have fun at 35? I totally got some action from a 21 year old – BUT hey I'm a lady so I don't ask me how good of a kisser he was. Unless he doesn't call me back than I'll totally tell everyone! Feel welcomed to tweet part of this to your 3000 Followers but Journalist are not allowed to read me."

    Yea right…. Two words – Your Fired.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.