Wednesday, 1st August 2012 by Simon Hilliard
The legal precedents around Twitter continue to be established at a rate of knots this week, driven in part by everyone being uber keen to tweet about the Olympics (although not always in a nice way).
Yesterday we posted on several legal wranglings involving Twitter; those of Guy Adams of The Independent newspaper, the anonymous user behind @UnSteveDorkland and teenager @Rileyy_69. In less than 24 hours, there’s been progress on all three.
Bit of a bad one for Twitter, this. It turns out Twitter workers originally alerted NBC to Adams’ critical tweets of the news outlet’s coverage of the Olympics. This resulted in his account being suspended. Twitter has now published an apology, admitting “we did mess up”. Adams’ Twitter is back up and running, but the questions around Twitter’s reputation won’t go away overnight. It’s likely this example will be dragged up time and again when a user is accused of something untoward. This leads us to…
Today, 1st August, was the deadline for Twitter to handover details of the user behind @UnSteveDorkland, a spoof account of Northcliffe Media’s chief executive Steve Auckland. Handing over user details is well within the rights of Twitter’s T&Cs, if the site receives a complaint from a third party about said user’s account.
However, Twitter also provides details of how the user can acquire legal aid. This, combined with a high level of media attention for the case, led pro bono layer Frank Sommer to take up the case. He’s now filed a motion to halt the disclosure order from Northcliffe. According to the BBC, Sommer has stated “I have been unable to find any website that lists this controversy in terms of someone being deceived that any of the Twitter usernames listed in the subpoena are anything other than a satire on Mr Auckland.”
Take that out of legalise and it simply means if an account is obviously a spoof, there’s no case for taking it down or even handing over a user’s details. The difficultly here is defining exactly what counts as ‘obvious’ in a court of law. Amazingly, this could reach a court room (if Northcliffe decides to push on) on 2nd September. If this happens, presumably we’ll get a clear ruling and precedent on what can and can’t be deemed an overtly satirical, spoof Twitter account. Good luck reaching a verdict on that one.
Finally, the rather unpleasant case of @Rileyy_69 appears to have been settled. After the 17 year old behind offensive tweets to Olympics diver Tom Daley was arrested, he was released with a harassment warning. Clearly this wasn’t a case that would ever make it to court, but hopefully one that shows you can’t get away unscathed with vicious comments on Twitter anymore than you would saying it to someone’s face (although you’re far more likely to get arrested, and less likely to get punched in the nose, it seems).