Twitter Can Be Dangerous

Newsnight image: BBC News Website

In recent events it is evident that Twitter can be a very dangerous tool. The most recent Twitter story is about the Tory chairman Lord McAlpine and how he has been ambushed with false speculation through the internet, that he was the paedophile mentioned in the allegations on the BBC’s Newsnight. Within the past two weeks alone, Twitter has made an impact on many events such as the resignation of the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, Ian Overton, followed then by George Entwhistle, director general of the BBC.

On 2nd November, Newsnight broadcast the allegations that a prominent 1980s COnservative politician had sexually abused a former care home resident Steve Messham. These are now know to be mistaken claims made by Mr Messham. Following the broadcast Twitter then showed to be a powerful tool to influence news and the news agenda. Guardian journalist George Monbiot and Sally Bercow, wife of the speaker of the House of Commons sent tweets that aimed the allegations towards Lord McApline and now could face legal action. Lord McAlpine became a “trending topic” after Newsnight made their broadcast, and media reports suggest that Lord McAlpine will be considering suing the thousands of people on Twitter for libel.

In a BBC News report about the topic mentioned stated what position those thousands of tweeters have – it is not a good outlook.

The legal position of an individual who posts content online, be it on Facebook, Twitter, or on comment sections of online news pages, is clear: He or she is responsible for that content. Ignorance of the law is not a defence.” (BBC News, Niri Shan and Lorna Caddy)

When individuals post material online, they act as publishers and their publications are subject to the same laws as those of professional publishers, such as newspapers.

This includes publications made by way of a tweet. A retweet also amounts to a further publication.The person who retweets that material will be responsible for the content of that retweet.

In addition, the individual who originally tweeted the defamatory tweet is also likely to be held responsible for any retweets.

While this may seem beyond the original tweeter’s control, this is because it is a reasonably foreseeable consequence that a defamatory tweet might be retweeted.

It is not a defence for an individual to say that he was simply repeating a statement by someone else. Just because something is out there does not make it OK to repeat.

The courts consider each tweet to be a libel, and the more often it is repeated, the more damage it can do and the more libel actions it may provoke.” (BBC News, Niri Shan and Lorna Caddy)

Continue reading the rest of the news article.

I do not think tweeters outside the journalism career would totally understand their implications of retweeting or even placing their view on Twitter. It is scary to see that a public micro-blogging site could create such controversy and get so many people into legal trouble. This is when people to be aware and not be naive in anyway when using these public services.

It is not only the public that make these mistakes, as seen in many news stories recently journalists have made the same mistakes. They have been ignoring the normal rules when undertaking research for stories and just cutting and pasting material from Twitter when this could be a wild speculation. They are also not aware of their immediate reaction and interest when writing a controversial tweet or even retweeting one, the rumours and speculation escalate and then in many eyes become more and more believable.

Another controversial and ambushing event was when Phillip Schofield passed to David Cameron a paper of speculated paedophile names, which he apparently collected through the internet on ITV’s This Morning Show. Unaware of his actions he passed the paper at an angle so that a few names could be seen. In my eyes why even write them on a piece of paper and then ambush the Prime Minister in my eyes in a cheap and informal manner. Yes, bring up the subject but do not jeopardise your career and reputation while doing it.

All of this created drama and rumours all over Twitter and other social media sites. I believe this shows naivety on the journalists part. As micro-blogging sites, such as Twitter become more addicting and popular everyone needs to be more aware of what they ‘tweet’ and the implications it could cause. Following the saying “people need to think before they speak”, in this day of age it’s: “People need to think before they tweet.”

Read George Monbiot’s apology here.

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Posted on November 15, 2012, in Twitter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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