Can Twitter Get You into Trouble?

The number of Twitter accounts are now in the region of something like 450 million and has proactive users on a daily basis in the many millions.  Tweeting has become an essential part of the day for many both in their business life and their personal life.  Over the next 2-5 years these numbers will grow rapidly.  There are many other potential legal pitfalls which are emerging as social media usage grows and there are a growing number of writings on this subject – some recent articles have been written by Suzanne Dibble (Lawyers4Mumpreneurs) and also Pedram Tabibi (@PedramTabibi on Twitter).

So what are the potential problems for Twitter and social media users across the board? Ownership of a Twitter account is something that you would not expect to be a problem.  However, this can be an issue in the employer – employee relationship.  Remember common sense is not so common.  Employers can help themselves and their employees by putting in place a Social Media Policy so that everyone know from the off where they stand with regard to usage of Twitter or other social media platforms in the event of a dispute (ie should the employee keep the accounts when they move jobs because they built up 20,000 followers!).

Ownership of Intellectual Property and defamation of character are two more hot potatoes.  It is all too easy to click and post or click and send before you realise you should not have made that detail public.  Then its too late because it is out there.  Thousands of copyright claims have already been made regarding content shared on social media so BE CAREFUL when Tweeting and that you do  not fall foul of this.

If you are a Twitter user who receives payment to endorses products or brands then you must reveal your relationship within your Tweets. Since Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters you could utilise hashtags to get the message across (ie #paid and “ad would possibly get you out of trouble but I am no legal brain so check out the fine print in legal terms before you dive in to honour your agreements.

It is surely common sense that social media platforms should be avoided by those attending jury service.  However, more and more it seems jurors are ignoring instructions and using social media during active trials.  The result for some has extended beyond a verbal court warning and ended up with real jail time. Tweet happy jurors are definitely asking for trouble when they pre-empt official verdict announcements and – possibly worse – reveal key details of a trial whilst it is underway.

Some really basic common sense things to avoid when using social media:

1.  Do not post confidential or personal information (ie home address of yourself or a friend).
2.  Do not specify when you will be away on holiday (you just might get burgled!).
3.  If you are having party – don’t put the details out there (you may have it spoilt by gatecrashers – just read the newspapers for the horror stories).

Something else you might want to know about Twitter:

1.  Freedom of information requests can be made through Twitter so long as their true name and an email address is provided at the time of asking (confirmed by Information Commisioner’s Office via their monthly newsletter which states that the authority should reply to the request either by email or by publishing the reply on the authority’s website and sending to the requestor a link to the relevant webpage).
2. Court documents can be served to you on your Twitter account!

As the social media phenomena continues to gain momentum there will no doubt be many more pitfalls for us all to pay heed to.  All we can do is watch, wait, listen and react quickly and positively as soon as we learn what they are!

Note: YouTube had this video posted about this very topic only a few days ago.

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