24 hours is a long time in Twitter’s legal department…

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.

Guy Adams

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…

@UnSteveDorkland

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.

@Rileyy_69

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).

@simonhill

‘I am the law…sometimes’: Twitter and various legal wranglings

In the last week or so, Twitter has been tripping over itself with legal wranglings here and in the US. The legal world is still in something of a catch-up scenario with the digital world generally, and Twitter specifically. The advent of the web, and everything there on, means new precedents are being set at a unprecedented (geddit?) rate. Hard and fast rules are not forthcoming.

Twitter law legal

Aside from marketing execs getting slaps on wrists, there is a more serious side to Twitter judgements. One report this week was heralded as a victory for common sense, and for everyone who has ever tweeted in jest.

Back in 2010 Twitter user Paul Chambers posted “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!”. While it was obvious to most this was a jovial posting from a frustrated traveller, it attracted legal action against Chambers. Yesterday he won a High Court appeal, with judges concluding “[the] appeal against conviction will be allowed on the basis that this ‘tweet’ did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character.”

The downside: this “dose of common sense” took over two years to come to fruition, meaning stress and almost £1000 in legal costs for Chambers.

When Twitter itself gets involved, a situation can get more complicated. There’s two ongoing situations involving an individual’s use of Twitter right now. One is the case of @UnSteveDorkland, a spoof account of Steve Auckland, chief executive of Northcliffe Media. The publisher of the Daily Mail, and 113 other regional UK papers, has both requested the identity of the user from Twitter and filed a court order in the US. Twitter has notified the user, and made it clear his details will be revealed by 1st August 2012. While this may seem a little harsh, Twitter is simply complying with the law and informing those who are involved. If you’re going to tweet material that will be offensive to a powerful person within a powerful organisation, it seems Twitter can’t and won’t guarantee your anonymity. The company does, however, offer advice of how to find legal help when notifying a user, as was the case with UnSteveDorkland.

Putting Twitter in this position of being able to aid or take action against users has its own risks. The second situation involves Guy Adams, a journalist writing for The Independent. Adams has been had his Twitter account suspended, according to reports, because he tweeted the email address of an NBC executive after poor Olympics coverage. Twitter claims to have suspended the account as the email address was private, meaning Adams was in breach of the site’s T&Cs relating to publishing private content. Unfortunately, the email address appears to have been anything but private. More unfortunate still is the current partnership between Twitter and NBC as part of the Olympics coverage. It all ties together so well you have wonder at the various motivations of those involved.

Twitter, despite some well meaning intentions, can seemingly be put at the mercy of a corporate partner – although this is still to be proven categorically. What these cases do prove for sure is there’s no clear policy for action against Twitter users following third party complaints. While ‘NotSteveDorkland’ is still tweeting away, and currently using Twitter to solicit further media attention, Guy Adams is suspected.

More troubling still is the case of @rileyy_69 (account now set to private). According to The Guardian, the 17 year old from Weymouth was arrested yesterday following a hateful tweet aimed at Olympic diver Tom Daley, including an apparent ‘death threat’. Following Daley’s placing fourth in the synchronised diving with partner Pete Waterfield, and thus outside the medals, he was sent an offensive tweet from @rileyy_69, which he then retweeted. A barrage of outraged followed, with the original tweet attracting over 29k RTs and counting, and Daley fans and followers prompting global trending.

Of course the tweet in question is vile and should never be condoned, but is the hot-headedness of one foolish 17 year old really a matter for the police? Will it take two years and legal costs to conclude teenagers often think before acting, like anyone one of us can be guilty of?

@simonhill

A Very Social Media Olympics

There’s a fairly important international sporting event coming up, and as its 2012 some are predicting this will be the first “social media games”. In other words, the Olympics organisers are looking to social media to make the events engaging for everyone not holding a ticket.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) didn’t get off to a brilliant start. Their Social Media Guidelines issued in advance of the games caused something of a stir, with regulations banning ticket holders from posting or uploading their own images, video and other digital recordings to social media or the Internet. So no burly Instagram shots of sprinters as they whizz past.

In contrast, the IOC and other sponsors have gone a bit social media bonkers in the final few days before the games. A whole host of sites and interactive content around the athletes, Olympic venues and London generally has popped up. Here’s a quick snapshot of what we have to look forward to:

Athletes Hub, Facebook, FourSquare, Google+ Twitter, Tumblr and more

Paid Content has published a handy rundown of the IOC’s official social media channels, which includes all the big names you’d expect.

Some highlights:

Twitter photos from the Athletes Village

Even the athletes themselves are getting in on the social media fun, with a bit of cajoling from the IOC. The Guardian published a collection of photos posted on Twitter from the athletes as they arrived in the Athletes Village, their digs for the summer. The women’s football team seem to be having the most fun.

London Eye

Olympics London Eye EDF
The colours of the London Eye’s nightly light show vary depending on Twitter sentiment. A clever sounding ‘intuitive algorithm’ developed by British professor Mike Thelwall from MIT, and his students, will monitor the sentiment of tweets during the games. Depending on how happy or sad the great British public is, the riverside ring will change colour. It’s yellow for happy, green for sad and purple for ‘meh’. The algorithm’s development is being sponsored by EDF Energy, which is also an official Olympics sponsor. The nightly show will also be live streamed of light show on EDF’s website.
Quite a nice idea that last one. Although if Team GB aren’t winning gold and the weather sticks to British summer tradition we’re gona be seeing alotta green on the South Bank in the coming weeks. Lets pray for yellow.

@simonhill

London transport heat map shows tube disruption during ‘certain sporting event’

Here’s a nice map for people living and working in London this summer – although I will be careful how it is described as I’m not brave like The Spectator. Let’s say it will be useful for people living in London who rely on the tube to get to and from work during a certain sporting event, where certain disc-shaped prizes of certain metals will be awarded to certain people.

With said certain event impacting hugely on what we in London laughingly call a ‘transport network’ (in reality is a hotchpotch of early 1900s inner-city train lines), Concentra has come up with the ‘Tableau’ heat map of London tube stations in zone 1.

TFL head map

By selecting a date, the map tells you which stations will be affected at which times of the day, down to the half hour, on a scale of 0-3. So say you’re travelling from Embankment on 2nd August and want to know if it will be better to lie in ‘til 10am or haul yourself out of bed at 7am, you can check days in advance. It also marks which stations are closed when.

Handy.

@simonhill

Times uses Olympics to boost paywall subscribers…by removing the paywall

The Times’ paywall was the first to go up on a UK paper, and since being in place has fallen over on the odd occasions – seemingly by mistake. That was until the Queen had been on the throne for 60 years.

During the Jubilee weekend, a time when the majority of the British public chose to watch the Diamond Jubilee celebrations from the comfort and warmth of their own homes, someone at The Times though it was a good time to drop the paywall. This was an effort to attract un-paying eyeballs and, hopefully, generate a few more paying subscribers.

Times paywall olympics

And it sort of worked. Some 6,000 people registered for The Times or Sunday Times sites over thw weekend according to Media Week. These 6,000 will now be hit up by marketing in an effort to boost subscription numbers.

Bosses at The Times must have been pleased with this number, as the paper is now planning to drop the paywall again during the London 2012 Olympics – presumably thinking the same target audience that was glued to their TV will be stuck in offices during the games and sneaking a look online whenever they can.  However, the paywall will only be down for two or three days during the games, likely around the more prominent events.

Does this mean the paywall model will change following the Olympics, as some suggest? Probably not. As an early foray into the world of paid content it seems to have gone okay. Using increased interest in mass appeal events is more of a marketing evolution than it is a revolution in business model. It’s more likely we’ll see the paywall drop temporally in future around similar scale events – provided there is a consistent small boost in subscriber numbers when it does.

It’s not bad timing by the paper for another reason. A number of London tube stations are being fitted with Wifi in advance of the games, which will be free initially. The first stations are already online at King’s Cross and Warren Street. So those heading to the games, as well as London commuters, may stumble through the paywall in their pre-event browsing.

@simonhill