PCC rules that re-tweets did not breach privacy

When twits tweet - summary from the PCC Press release:
The Press Complaints Commission has made its first ruling about the republication of information originally posted on Twitter. In response to complaints about articles published in the Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday, the Commission concluded that there had been no breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complainant was a civil servant working at the Department for Transport. The articles reported on a number of messages she had posted on her Twitter account about various aspects of, and her feelings towards, her job. In the complainant's view, this information was private: she had a "reasonable expectation" that her messages would be published only to her 700 or so followers; she had included a clear disclaimer on her Twitter feed that the views expressed there were personal, and were not representative of her employer.

In their defence, both newspapers argued that the complainant's Twitter account was not private. The posts could be read by anyone and not just those individuals who actively chose to follow her. The complainant had taken no steps to restrict access to her messages (although she did so after the Daily Mail article appeared) and was not publishing material anonymously. In addition, the newspapers argued that it was reasonable to highlight the messages in light of the requirements of the civil service code on impartiality. It was also reasonable for newspapers to give a view on whether it was acceptable for the complainant to have talked about such things as being hungover at work and to consider what this said about her judgement.

In reaching its decision on the case, the Commission judged that the publicly accessible nature of the information was a "key consideration". It was quite clear that the potential audience for the information was actually much larger than the 700 people who followed the complainant directly, not least because any message could easily be retweeted to a wider audience. It also took into account the type of information that had been published by the newspapers, which in this case related directly to the complainant's professional life as a public servant. In all the circumstances, the Commission concluded that the newspapers' actions did not constitute "an unjustifiable intrusion" into the complainant's privacy.

Daily Mail adjudication
Independent on Sunday adjudication

Mediabeak is glad common sense prevailed here and thinks there is no way the hounded Ms Baskerville could have any claim to privacy in the circumstances. It has always been Mediabeak's contention that if you put yourself out in public then you bear the risk that what you put out won't always be perceived, received or indeed handled in the manner you might like. If a certain Mr Mosley had tweeted on a bondage forum or uploaded his BDSM sessions onto YouTube his privacy case would have turned out very differently.

The real learning from this case - beyond the fact it is the PCC's frst tweetment of twitterati complaints - is this: it is very easy for the public to engage in social media and enjoy airing their voice, views and participating in disucssions BUT in doing so they need to beware, as Baskerville found out, while tweeting might be a release for many boredom suffering office workers, it is a public activity and as with anything public, it is open to scrutiny. Where Baskerville made herself a target and what legitimised the interest was the fact she was a civil servant and public servants paid by our taxes are not meant to spend their time at work hungover or tweeting.

So are all online forums fair game?
Where there are boundaries is where people are part of a forum which they register onto and discuss particular issues - e.g. there may be a health forum for allergy sufferers or alcoholics where people exchange experiences and get advice. Were someone i.e. a journalist to register for that so they could then draw people to comment on their conditions and then expose their comments, there would be an issue -there would be a 'pivate' nature to both the online forum and the comments and that could attract privacy protection.

But for those that tweet and put their views to the public, if you seek an audience don't complain when you get one.

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