In the last week or so, Twitter has been tripping over itself with legal wranglings here and in the US. The legal world is still in something of a catch-up scenario with the digital world generally, and Twitter specifically. The advent of the web, and everything there on, means new precedents are being set at a unprecedented (geddit?) rate. Hard and fast rules are not forthcoming.
Aside from marketing execs getting slaps on wrists, there is a more serious side to Twitter judgements. One report this week was heralded as a victory for common sense, and for everyone who has ever tweeted in jest.
Back in 2010 Twitter user Paul Chambers posted “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!”. While it was obvious to most this was a jovial posting from a frustrated traveller, it attracted legal action against Chambers. Yesterday he won a High Court appeal, with judges concluding “[the] appeal against conviction will be allowed on the basis that this ‘tweet’ did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character.”
The downside: this “dose of common sense” took over two years to come to fruition, meaning stress and almost £1000 in legal costs for Chambers.
When Twitter itself gets involved, a situation can get more complicated. There’s two ongoing situations involving an individual’s use of Twitter right now. One is the case of @UnSteveDorkland, a spoof account of Steve Auckland, chief executive of Northcliffe Media. The publisher of the Daily Mail, and 113 other regional UK papers, has both requested the identity of the user from Twitter and filed a court order in the US. Twitter has notified the user, and made it clear his details will be revealed by 1st August 2012. While this may seem a little harsh, Twitter is simply complying with the law and informing those who are involved. If you’re going to tweet material that will be offensive to a powerful person within a powerful organisation, it seems Twitter can’t and won’t guarantee your anonymity. The company does, however, offer advice of how to find legal help when notifying a user, as was the case with UnSteveDorkland.
Putting Twitter in this position of being able to aid or take action against users has its own risks. The second situation involves Guy Adams, a journalist writing for The Independent. Adams has been had his Twitter account suspended, according to reports, because he tweeted the email address of an NBC executive after poor Olympics coverage. Twitter claims to have suspended the account as the email address was private, meaning Adams was in breach of the site’s T&Cs relating to publishing private content. Unfortunately, the email address appears to have been anything but private. More unfortunate still is the current partnership between Twitter and NBC as part of the Olympics coverage. It all ties together so well you have wonder at the various motivations of those involved.
Twitter, despite some well meaning intentions, can seemingly be put at the mercy of a corporate partner – although this is still to be proven categorically. What these cases do prove for sure is there’s no clear policy for action against Twitter users following third party complaints. While ‘NotSteveDorkland’ is still tweeting away, and currently using Twitter to solicit further media attention, Guy Adams is suspected.
More troubling still is the case of @rileyy_69 (account now set to private). According to The Guardian, the 17 year old from Weymouth was arrested yesterday following hateful tweets aimed at Olympic diver Tom Daley, including an apparent ‘death threat’. Following Daley’s placing fourth in the synchronised diving with partner Pete Waterfield, and thus outside the medals, he was sent an offensive tweet from @rileyy_69, which he then retweeted. A barrage of outraged followed, with the original tweet attracting over 29k RTs and counting, and Daley fans and followers prompting global trending.
Of course the tweet in question is vile and should never be condoned, but is the hot-headedness of one foolish 17 year old really a matter for the police? Will it take two years and legal costs to conclude teenagers often think before acting, like anyone one of us can be guilty of?