The ‘Twitter joke’ saga came to an end last week when Paul Chambers’ conviction for apparently threatening to blow up an airport was finally over turned. Meanwhile, another tweeter was arrested over an offensive tweet sent to Olympic diver Tom Daley.
Twitter is the social medium of the moment. The London 2012 Olympics have been called the first Twitter games with 97% of online comment on the opening ceremony taking place in less than 140 characters. It’s a wonderful way for businesses to connect with their buyers and find new customers online. While free speech is a wonderful thing there are dangers too.
Twitter is a very open social platform and it doesn’t take much to whip up a Twitter storm. It’s hard to convey sarcasm or irony in text and you could find yourself reflecting on the permanence of Internet communications while you’re explaining that ‘it was just a joke’.
Chambers can now get on with his life. But he lost two jobs and spent two years in the courts to clear his name. Some joke.
Student Liam Stacey was drunk when he used Twitter to mock the plight of footballer Fabrice Muamba, who collapsed during an FA cup match. He then tweeted racial abuse at his critics. But, these remarks didn’t disappear into the night air to be recalled with regret and a hangover. Stacey was sentenced to eight weeks in prison and while his university let him complete his course, he was expelled from campus life.
A 17-year-old Dorset man was arrested this week under the Malicious Communications Act of 1988 after he abused diver Tom Daley when the Olympian failed to win a medal at the games.
Legal expert Joshua Rozenberg, writing in the Guardian, had a warning for all Twitter users: “What Twitter users have to understand is that a tweet is not an email; it is a broadcast. It can be seen by anyone.”
Libel applies in cyberspace too. Paul Chambers was prosecuted under the communications act that makes sending a message that is ‘grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character’ a criminal offence.
Most businesses will have no problem staying on the right side of the law, but think before you tweet is certainly good advice.
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