Too many Tweets…

By skepticlawyer

… Make a Twat.

Well, that was David Cameron’s view during the 2010 election campaign, and I have to say I did (and largely still do) agree with him. I can understand using Twitter for the provision of information (done with great skill by the Queensland Police Service during both the recent floods and Cyclone Yasi; the QPS used Facebook as well), but I simply do not grasp the desire to spread trivial information about oneself to the four corners of the earth when one has nothing substantive to say.

I’ve always viewed Facebook as semi-public and Twitter as wholly public, so when a civil servant over here tried to argue that her tweets were ‘private’, my first instinct was to roll laughing. Evidently the Press Complaints Commission agreed with me:

Material that is published on Twitter should be considered public and can be published, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has ruled.

The decision follows a complaint by a Department of Transport official that the use of her “Tweets” by newspapers constituted an invasion of privacy.

Sarah Baskerville complained to the PCC about articles in the Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday.

The messages included remarks about being hungover at work.

She complained that this information was private and was only meant to be seen by her 700 followers.

Ms Baskerville said she had a clear disclaimer that the views expressed by her on Twitter were personal and not representative of her employer.

The disclaimer currently reads: “Scottish & Sober-ish.. Civil Servant. This is my personal account, personal views. Nothing to do with my employers. What I retweet I may or may not agree with.”

I do not usually come down on the side of the press over its insatiable desire to poke its nose where it isn’t wanted. Unlike many libertarians, I do not blithely assume that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the same thing; I can see many reasons why it can be a social good to keep a still tongue in one’s head, especially if one is a corporation or represents corporate interests.

In this case, however, it appears that we as a society have so comprehensively blurred the boundary between the public and the private that the twitterer in question (oh dear, WordPress doesn’t treat that as a spelling error) somehow failed to realise that her tweets were public. She thought only her 700 followers could see them.

The Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday were correctly cleared by the PCC of claims that they had breached privacy by republishing material from Twitter.

The complainant, a department of transport civil servant, posted tweets she thought should be read only by her 700 followers. Why? Everyone surely knows it is a public forum.

It was true that she had stated that the views she was expressing were not representative of her employer. But so what? They were still her views, weren’t they? That disclaimer does not exonerate her from all responsibility for what she wrote.

If she wanted only her 700 followers to know she was suffering from a hangover, then she should have restricted access (as she later did). She was guilty of naïveté and may reflect that she has been a bit of a twit.

What is it with this impulse to overshare all the time? Unless you’re Hunter S Thompson (and therefore have the talent to get away with it) oversharing leads to the worst sort of confessional writing and distribution of tedious effluvia. My principle irritation with Tony Abbott, for example, is that when he opens his mouth, all his guts fall out everywhere. No, Tony (and anyone else who does the same thing), I really don’t want to know.

How much worse would he be if he had a Twitter account… oh, wait. What if he does have a Twitter account?

/runs and hides.


  1. kvd
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    SL it’s funny you mention Mr Abbott as he has just had his own twitter-style moment in being recorded saying “shit happens” when reacting to a report about the death of an Australian soldier. I have great sympathy for him in this instance as it is a phrase which covers unwanted outcomes, despite best planning (there should be a legal term for it) but no sympathy for your twitterer who would insist that her circle of 700 is private.

    It sort of links back to the previous post, where that one legged mudstucker should more appropriately have been nominated for a Darwin award, than be allowed to pursue a legal claim.

    But in all of this the press continues to disappoint in its unqualified publication of anything which sells, titivates, or brings into disrepute.

  2. Posted February 9, 2011 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve been asked not to Gazump her, but look again at the blog tomorrow, kvd. 😉

  3. Patrick
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Hunter S Thompson did not get away with it at all. Otherwise, agree entirely, twitter is awesome because it lets us see who is a real twat, like Catherine Deveny.

  4. Mel
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Completely right, SL.

    And in other unrelated news, Ken Parish has now apologized for making unfounded accusations about a breach of the secondary boycott provisions. See here:

    Will you show a similar grace under pressure and do likewise?

  5. Posted February 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Ken Parish has now apologized for making unfounded accusations about a breach of the secondary boycott provisions.

    No he didn’t.

    I wrote the primary post on information that a mysterious but identified small group of “gay activists” within ad agencies had effectively ambushed OLO (and by extension Troppo and the other Domain blogs) by orchestrating a campaign for an advertiser boycott of OLO because it had published an article on gay marriage by Bill Muehlenberg which they found offensive (as do I). Had that been the situation, the activists’ actions would have been highly objectionable in my view, despite the offensive nature of the original article, for the sorts of reasons discussed in the primary post. The events would also have raised secondary boycott issues (albeit with significant legal, evidentiary and practical uncertainties as discussed earlier in the thread).

    It has subsequently emerged from discussions here and at LP that the actual dispute was about the extremely toxic/offensive comment threads to the Muehlenberg post rather than the article itself, and that there had been extensive dealings between OLO and the complainants (most prominently Gregory Storer) where they sought unsuccessfully to have the problem addressed. It appears they would see themselves as having approached advertisers as a last resort. Personally I would have preferred to see them take less drastic expedients such as anti-discrimination/equal opportunity complaints, because the result of approaching advertisers might well be the closure of a valuable and longstanding independent opinion journal (whatever one may think of its moderation policies).

    So if they still deliberately discouraged his advertising suppliers in order to use financial pressure not only on Graham but his advertising domain (and our blog by extension), does it matter much that it was a dispute over comment moderation rather than article content? Still sounds like something a Senate Committee would recognise as a secondary boycott… but then I’m the non-lawyer here.

  6. Mel
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    There is no “they”. That has now been well established and is now widely accepted. One person acted alone. The whole Pink Mafia/Homosexualist Lobby claim is nothing more than a figment of certain feverish imaginations and I must say, rather reminiscent of Paul Walter’s obsession with the Zionist lobby.

    A secondary boycott only exists if the alleged boycotter *hinder or prevents*. One doesn’t need to be a weatherman to know which the wind blows, nor does one need to be a lawyer to know that a politely worded and non-threatening letter written at the kitchen table does not equate to *hindering or preventing*. In addition to that, the fourth party impact must be *purposeful* rather than merely incidental, as is plainly the case in this instance.

    The instinctive manner with which so many right wingers, both conservative and libertarian, have grasped for a stereotype not unlike that of the the “Eternal Jew” to legitimise a false and malicious construction of reality in this instance is a real eye opener.

    I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

  7. Mel
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    I appear to be caught in mod, guys.

  8. Posted February 9, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Rescued! (Sorry Mel, I didn’t get any sleep last night so I’m a bit behind the ball and SL is off to Uni this morning.)

    So far it’s not clear how many were involved, though I’d be willing to speculate that ANZ and/or IBM weren’t concerned about the negative effect on profits of losing a single consumer.

    As Ken mentioned on his thread, the courts can go either way and based on the Senate Report it looks like there is the power to take representative action but so far none of the collateral blogs seem particularly keen due mainly to the expense and so far no one seems to have been willing to write to the ACCC. That doesn’t mean we have any doubts it was a secondary boycott, the suitability of which as a resonse is a completely seperate issue to the toxic comments thread.

    Beware of learning a lesson that’s not actually on the board…

  9. Posted February 9, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I have just read two lengthy threads at Troppo and a large chunk of the toxic putrescence attached to the Muehlenberg article over at OLO. In the case of the latter, that’s a bit of my life I’ll never get back.

    The secondary boycott issue hasn’t gone away (although, as Ken says, he has no desire to litigate personally and for my part I have no desire to chase the ACCC to bring a representative action on my behalf). The latter, I think, would require all the affected parties to be on board and both John Passant and LP have made it clear that they are not interested. Jennifer Marohasy is not happy with the situation but she may not be interested either.

    I do recommend reading Don Arthur’s separate thread at Troppo on the second issue that Ken raises above. Like Ken, Graham’s moderation of OLO when it came to that particular post and the dispute over it was something of which I was unaware when I wrote my initial post. Unlike Ken, I have no desire to apologise to one of the named individuals (Gregory Storer) who approached the advertisers, because — as Ken says — the effect has been extremely drastic, and because he had other options.

    Unless this latest controversy means OLO gets other advertisers (and it may well do so; media and advertising and publicity can be very strange beasts), then OLO will shut down. It is a commercial concern. We won’t, and nor will LP, Troppo, Jennifer Marohasy et al (I don’t think; I could be wrong on this). We will all have to figure out a way to pay Jacques and our hosting fees, but that is not insurmountable. LP and Troppo used to run fund-raising drives now and then; maybe we will all have to go back to that.

    Don Arthur’s post is here:

    The thread following is also very interesting as well. However reluctantly, I do believe the following as a result of reading it:

    1. Graham should have closed the Muehlenberg thread after page 7 (when Ken noticed it getting toxic). When people started trading personal insults and speculating on each other’s sexual histories on the thread here, I closed it. LP has turned comments off from the get-go on their post outlining their ‘corporate position’ on the issue — very sensibly I think. Ken and Don have also policed both their threads at Troppo very assiduously. When it is abundantly clear that no-one is going to shift their position and all that is left is (a) abuse and (b) gossip which often leads to (c) defamation, then closing the thread is the only reasonable option. Graham should have done this, and his failure to do so makes Storer’s actions explicable, if it doesn’t make them right or even legal.

    2. Unlike Kim and several other people in both the Troppo threads, I don’t accept the idea of group defamation (or group rights, for that matter). I recognise that this is ideological; one of the defining differences between left and right — particularly the libertarian right — is a different view of group rights. However, threads here don’t get toxic too often because all four of us recognise that — on issues like this — the law of diminishing returns comes into play. Use the ‘find’ function on the Troppo threads (look for HELLFIRE, the allcaps are a bit of a give away) and you’ll see some of the religious bigotry that surfaced in the comments at OLO. The poster in question is entitled to his views, but we don’t want them on our blog. Our blog, our rules. We’ve already had some utter crazies try to get through to us (including harassing Jacques), and a couple of slightly worrying people have turned up at Troppo.

    3. You can dress it up any way you like, but the three monotheisms are unequivocal in their condemnation of homosexuality. They’re also unequivocal in their condemnation of a lot of other stuff, too. Their position on homosexuality (and sexual matters generally) is now so recognisably outlandish that it falls into the ‘not even wrong’ category (to pinch a phrase from Lorenzo). The problem is, (a) a lot of people still believe it and (b) a percentage of gays and lesbians want to keep their monotheism and live as normal human beings, not celibates (taking the Catholic position that the sexual act is the sin, not the fact of being same-sex attracted).

    4. There have been various responses to this phenomenon, one of which is a tortured attempt to retranslate the Bible/Koran/Torah so that the sexism, homophobia, bigotry etc etc is interpreted in such a way that it isn’t sexist, homophobic or bigoted. Some of Kim’s comments on the Troppo threads fall into this category. Another is to just ignore the offending bits (the Uniting and Anglican Churches tend to do this, as does Reform Judaism and some branches of Alawi Islam). Another is to state, baldly, ‘thems the rules, suck it up’ (the Catholic, mainstream Islamic and Orthodox Jewish position). This latter, of course, means some Gays and Lesbians have no place in a religion in which they desperately they want to partake. That is a dilemma of the most horned sort and I am damned glad that it’s not something I have to face or even think about. Atheism has its advantages on that front.

    5. The upshot is that i have a fundamental disagreement about the underlying norms of debate (online and, I suspect, otherwise) with both Kim and Graham. I am closer to Ken’s position although not quite the same. Perhaps that comes of running a blog where the main posters all have different politics. They have everyone over at Troppo from Fred Argy to Rafe Champion and all shades in between.

    6. I don’t think these differences can be reconciled, or if they can, it’s going to take someone far more skillful and diplomatic than me to do so.

    I will now put up this lengthy comment as a separate post, in view of how the whole debate has unfolded, both here and elsewhere. I will try to introduce it appropriately, which may take a little while. Please bear with me.

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