Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows how much I love to tweet. But here at the Magazine we predict more legal actions against people spouting off on Twitter in the future – and it’s becoming clearer that all of us must take care over exactly what we say on it.
Regrets about what we post
In fact recent research claims one in four of us have regretted something we’ve said on Twitter or Facebook. Many people use such sites to speak up on an issue they feel passionate about but the problem is it is all to easy to hit the post button before really thinking carefully about whether your tweet is appropriate.
The study, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, discovered more than a quarter of 2000 people polled admitted they would say, or have said something on a site they would never say to someone’s face.
A third have also witnessed or been victim of online bullying.
At the Magazine we would also say we dislike the rise we see in bullying on forums by those hiding behind their anonymous computers. We believe it’s time people thought more carefully about how some of their views can be so terribly hurtful and how they would feel if they were on the receiving end.
Attacks on Twitter or Facebook can lose you your job.
The Sunday Times reports on Eirian Walsh Atkins, who recently resigned as head of Constitutional Policy at the Cabinet Office and a series of tweets she has made. As a result, she faces an internal investigation into breaches of the civil service code of conduct. Meanwhile Featureworld recently received an email from a mum who made a casual remark about her boss on Facebook – he saw it and she was duly sacked for bringing her company into disrepute.
Breaching advertising guidelines
A recent trend is for those with a large number of followers to charge a fee for making a tweet. But if you pass this tweet off as an endorsement and it isn’t made clear it is in fact a paid-for advertisement, then you could find yourself in trouble. Under the 2008 consumer protection regulations, the Office of Fair Trading can seek a court order that could lead to a criminal prosecution and an unlimited fine if you are paid to promote products without it being made clear to your audience that it is an advert.
The Advertising Watchdog has recently launched an investigation into whether a Snickers campaign was in breach of its codes. This followed a series of tweets from celebrity accounts such as Rio Ferdinand, Katie Price, Ian Botham, Cher Lloyd and Amir Khan.
And in 2010 action was taken against a PR agency which paid bloggers to write an tweet about particular products.
Libel and Defamation
Unfortunately the general public often has little idea about what constitutes opinion and libel (just publishing a libel to one follower is libellous). An example, saying: ‘I didn’t rate someone’s book’ is your opinion which (currently!) you are allowed to give. But claiming chunks of it are copied from another novel would be libellous. This is because such a claim could make others think badly of the writer and is an attack on his integrity and credibility (and could lead to loss of earnings and reputation.)
You cannot be sued for giving your opinion – but you can if you libel someone. And incidentally, even if it is the truth you would have to prove that (which can be much harder than you might imagine.)
Twitter planning to block ‘offensive’ messages
Many people are angry about Twitter’s plan to block what it believes to be offensive tweets on a country by country basis, claiming it can affect free speech. An example is banning pro-Nazi content in Germany. In fact it does already censor some tweets throughout the world – these have so far involved links to child pornography.
Your account can be removed.
However, Twitter, which publishes Twitter Rules, can ultimately take someone’s account down if it is involving itself in attacking, libellous or offensive tweeting. We have also witnessed Facebook removing one woman’s account after she accused her ex husband of cheating. She set the account up to ‘warn others’ of his alleged infidelity. But when he complained to Facebook she found one day it was removed. See Facebook Rules.
If you are attacked on Twitter
If you are attacked or an untruth is made about you on a social media website, what can you do?
Firstly, particularly if the attack is made on Twitter do not respond. Because Twitter is so public (unless you have set it to private, anyone can go on your Home page and see your tweets) responding to it will simply draw attention to it.
Twitter has a list of guidelines to follow (you can alert them to the offending tweet) but contacting the offender another way (by direct message or via their website or email if you can find it) is a less public way of sorting out the issue. Keep calm and simply point out in a polite way why what they have written is offensive (and potentially libellous) and ask them to remove it. If they have got the wrong idea, then it can be worth pointing that out too.
Think before you post
Dig deep into your conscience and ask yourself before you post something you know might offend whether it is worth it. Are you sure you know all the facts? How will your remark affect that person? Also consider that others will see what you have said and might not agree with you. In general many people do not like to see offensive tweets – for a start they might see it as bullying and even worry you will be picking on them next. Certainly, if you are in business, we believe it is utterly unprofessional to post any sort of offensive tweet, however tempted you might be to do so. Because it is public, your offensive tweet can also be reported in newspaper.
Finally, consider a careless remark could prove costly. If your remark is libellous you could find yourself on the receiving end of costly legal action against you. For one remark, it just isn’t worth it.