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To Tweet or not to Tweet May 4, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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When the footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed because of a cardiac arrest during a recent game most online fans were sending out messages of hope – pray for Muamba was a recurring message on Twitter at the time. But one young student at Swansea University, Liam Stacey, chose to send out abusive racist messages abusing the footballer just as he was fighting for his life.

Stacey was found guilty under the Racially Aggravated s4A Public order Act 1986 and was sentenced to 56 days in jail and his university told him to not bother coming back to complete his finals. So the messages we post on Twitter are not ephemeral. They do have meaning and can be treated as published words in the eye of the law.

But Twitter is still a free for all. Take a look at the profiles of many people where they state their company and job title. Often there is an extra line saying ‘these are my personal views, not those of my employer’.

Really? But nobody has ever tested this in court and isn’t it obvious that if you have announced on your profile who you work for then surely that company will have an interest in what you are publishing if it diverges far from what they would call their ‘brand values’?

And what of the retweet dilemma? Imagine you work for an Israeli company and you notice a news story about academics trying to make ‘Mein Kampf’ available in Germany once again. You retweet the story because it is interesting then someone in your company asks why you are endorsing the wider availability for the works of Adolf Hitler.

Who is right? Does a retweet merely indicate that this is something interesting you want to share, or is it an implicit endorsement of what you are linking to?

None of this has been tested in court yet so I am sure the coming years are going to feature many more Liam Stacey’s – lives ruined because of an ill-judged Tweet.

Fabrice Muamba Tribute

Photo by Ronnie MacDonald licensed under Creative Commons

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Is technology moving too fast for the law? April 30, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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Three people have been arrested by police recently as part of the investigation into the alleged naming of Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans’ rape victim on Twitter.

The right to victims of rape and sexual assault to remain anonymous is an area of the law that faces an enormous challenge in this era of information freedom. Many victims would not go to the police if they knew that their name would be splashed across the newspapers – whether a celebrity is involved or not – and traditional newspapers and broadcasters have always respected the law in this respect.

But now there is Twitter. It takes just one tweet from somebody with inside knowledge of a case and the victim details are published and cannot be erased. Those wanting to avoid detection can easily create a new Twitter account in a different name within minutes.

The implication is clear. Technology can be used by people with inside knowledge of a subject to broadcast it to the media and general public, with very little fear of recrimination.

This affects many areas of life where sensitive information is managed. Jurors tweeting their opinion as a trial proceeds are already disrupting court proceedings. Medical professionals are tweeting about celebrities receiving treatment – and assuming that they can go to a hospital without news of their condition being broadcast to the world.

In technological terms, the genie has already escaped. We cannot turn back the clock to an age before Twitter so it appears that the approach to this problem can only be the improved education of professionals who deal with sensitive information and greater measures – such as immediate dismissal – for medical or legal professionals who misuse social networks. It is not ideal, but then the world has changed forever.

Scales of Justice, Old Bailey, London

Photo by Andrew Middleton licensed under Creative Commons