The recent Lord McAlpine furore has once again stirred up the question of Twitter, and how potentially slanderous/libelous Tweets are dealt with.
I’m going to open with this statement, and work from here:
“Twitter is the digital equivalent of a pub: open to the public. You can sit with friends, colleagues – or even people you don’t know – and talk about whatever you want. You can get really drunk and shout whatever you want. One shouldn’t report on something overheard in the pub as a fact (or indeed a source). Likewise, no-one should be arrested for something said on Twitter.”
It’s important to understand & agree whether Tweets are libelous or slanderous. Libel is for printed words (or permanent publications) – slander is spoken. So what do Tweets fall under?
I personally think it’s reasonable to assume that, since computer data can be used in a court of law as evidence for any number of offences, Tweets should be considered permanent publications. So on that basis, they could be libelous.
So, a user could in theory be sued for libel, and that is something I’m actually ok with in principle. But what about where a user cannot be identified, or has used false registration details? Should they:
a) Be hunted down via a court injunction?
b) Be ignored, and the company hosting the service (in this case Twitter Inc) be sued?
The practicalities of a) are fairly restrictive. You’d need a court order to Twitter to ensure they divulge the IP address of the offending user. You’d then need a court order to ensure the ISP responsible for that IP address turned over the user’s details. This would all take a long time, a lot of money, and a lot of effort. Is it truly worth burdening the law system with this for something someone said in the digital equivalent of the pub?
So, you go for option b). You sue Twitter because someone said something silly on their service. Except they explicitly state in their Terms of Service that:
“TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THE TWITTER ENTITIES SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES, …RESULTING FROM …(ii) ANY CONDUCT OR CONTENT OF ANY THIRD PARTY ON THE SERVICES, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY DEFAMATORY, OFFENSIVE OR ILLEGAL CONDUCT OF OTHER USERS OR THIRD PARTIES”
…so they’re covered, legally.
By all means use Twitter as a route to enquiry – perhaps to lead you to actually talk to someone about something they said – but taking action based on (or citing as a source) something said on Twitter is ridiculous.0
Just a quick entry to note that Sony Ericsson have launched a novel new campaign to support their TV ad (which features people bouncing inanely on spacehoppers).
If users Tweet the #pumpt tag, they can see a real-time video feed of a spacehopper being pumped up with air for 20 seconds. The video feed shows a huge screen in the background so you can see your Tweet being received in real-time. Rather fun, except that it didn’t work for me – and I spotted the engineer fiddling with an errant spacehopper…
…so naturally I Tweeted #pumpt whilst he was doing so in order to try and spray him with air (if you read carefully, you can see my Tweet in the background). I don’t think it worked though.
Later they started swinging another spacehopper on a length of rope through the warehouse, and balancing one on an engineer’s head. Looks like they’re having fun
This is a great example of merging on and offline for an inventive and engaging (if pointless) campaign. I like it.0
We’ve all heard recently about how Google & Microsoft are now indexing the Twitter-feed. Does this mean Twitter will become the future of paid-for links?
eConsultancy have raised an interesting point about this, and conclude that it’s gonna be hard to distinguish between valuable links tweeted vs those that are paid for.
Quite frankly, I predict at least one outcome – a surge in Twitter-spam: a huge influx of those ridiculous accounts called ‘Maryjane410′ (or whatever) who simply Tweet bot-driven spammy bollocks. Hurrah.0