Staying on the right side of the Law on Twitter
Its nothing new that many of us now are having our conversations via Social Media and in particular on platforms such as Twitter – I for one are am massive Twitter fan the platform has become an important aspect of how I communicate my messages to a world wide listener base in just 140 Characters but as more and more of our conversations move on-line this potentially can open up a whole new host of problems and as content creators we need to be aware of.
I’ve been lucky enough recently to have been working with a great team of Media Legal advisor’s based in Belfast called McKinty & Wright Solicitor’s & I recently asked them if they would be so kind to take some time out and outline some of the things as tweeters we need to be aware of when engaging with the platform -so have a look at this 10 point check-list to keep your tweets on the right side of the law.
Twitter – Legal Implications
Twitter has become the primary platform for individuals and businesses to connect, share and explore information. There are many advantages when it comes to using Twitter either for your business or personally. The use of Twitter is not however without legal risk and recent cases involving Lord McAlpine & Another have highlighted some potential legal consequences of tweeting certain information.
Some of the issues to bear in mind are the following:-
The law of defamation protects the moral and professional reputation of an individual from unjustified attack. The most common definition of the meaning of defamatory is words that tend to lower the individual in the eyes of like thinking members of society. If a tweet does so, then issues of libel will arise. The author of the tweet may well find him/herself exposed to a claim for defamation and may well be liable unless he/she can avail of one of the limited defences, for example that the words complained off are true or that they are fair comment on a matter of public interest.
2. Data Protection
The law of data protection protects against processing of personal information without permission. If personal information in relation to an individual is revealed on Twitter without obtaining consent from that individual, there may be a breach of data protection legislation. The penalty for breaching data protection legislation in the UK is fines and/or criminal convictions.
3. Confidential Information
Care should be exercised when tweeting, particularly by employees or parties to contracts, not to reveal information in respect of which there is an obligation, contractual or otherwise, to keep confidential.
Users of Twitter commonly use hash tags in conjunction with the name of a business or product. A trademark infringement is a violation of the exclusive rights attaching to a trademark without the authorisation of the trademark owner. Care should be exercised in this context particularly by users who may be seeking to advertise or promote their own products.
5. Malicious falsehood
Apart from the laws of defamation, tweets which seek to damage the business or services of another by revealing false information may result in a liability under the law of malicious falsehood.
6. Indecent, obscene or grossly offensive tweets
Criminal law sanctions may be imposed in relation to tweets which incite racial hatred or are obscene etc.
Paul Chambers, angry at the delays he was facing at Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport tweeted that he was minded to blow it sky high. The result? Being charged with sending a “menacing electronic communication”, having his house raided, losing his job and fighting a two year legal battle! Thankfully eventually (albeit after costly expense to the tax payer) sense prevailed and Lord Judge overturned the conviction noting it fell into the category of “ridiculous banter” and not, perhaps unsurprisingly, a terrorist threat.
7. Copyright law
Copyright law seeks to protect the rights of an author or originator of certain literary artistic productions. There is a risk that unauthorised use of a copyrighted image as a profile photo, header photo or background may give rise to legal liability.
There appears to be a growing trend for well-known individuals and sports people to be harassed on Twitter. The recent example of a 17 year old boy being arrested as part of an investigation into Twitter and messages sent to the diver Tom Daly should sound a note of caution.
9. Importance of social media policies in the workplace
Employers and organisations such as academic institutions should considering having in place guidelines on the use of social media when using accounts associated with the employer/organisation.
It is sensible to make it clear on your Twitter account that the views expressed are personal opinions and not representative of any other organisation or employer that you are associated with, if that is indeed the case. This will not however necessarily prevent other publication of tweets which may well have adverse implications for your employer or any organisation for which you are associated.
10. Other points to bear in mind
Tweets can be circulated to other media and published therein and therefore they have a circulation far beyond Twitter. Bear this in mind before you tweet. You must always be in a position to stand over any information you have tweeted.
I hope like me readers of this blog post have found it extremely useful, interesting and something we all need to start thinking about. Until I started chatting with the team at McKinty & Wright I was unaware of many of the pitfalls when broadcasting messages via Social Media Platforms. If you require any further information or for an informal chat on the legal aspects of Social Media both for your Business or Personally I’d recommend you get in touch with them on the following contact details: 028 9024 6751 (Paul Mc Donnell) by visiting www.mckinty-wright.co.uk