When Jack Dorsey and his team of Web developers and businessmen first dreamt up the idea of Twitter in an office 6 years ago, few of them could have forecast its huge potential in changing the World. From only a mere 140 characters (less than the first sentence of this article), Twitter has been pivotal in spurring on the Arab Spring, inspiring the 99% and allowing freedom of expression in many places where no such freedom existed before. With more than 500 million users and worth an estimated $9 billion, this micro-blogging site has become the World’s most popular cyber platform.
However, Twitter has not always been used for such noble purposes. With 350 million tweets being created every day, one would be wrong to assume that their actions in compiling one of these messages are purely trivial. Many users have incurred the wrath of the authorities after crossing the line with a tweet deemed offensive enough to warrant judicial action.
When used responsibly, Twitter can be a great tool for communicating with like minded peers, expressing your opinion and networking with future colleagues and potential employers. The last point is directly from a personal story from this summer. Having had no luck in finding work experience via the traditional method of email and CV dropping, I found a quick tweet worked wonders in harnessing the ability to find some much needed work experience in a prestigious London Law firm. Naturally, without that one tweet my week in London would have never materialised and an amazing CV opportunity would have been lost. When used responsibly, this particular social media platform can establish you both on a personal and professional level with future networking professionals.
However, this form of Social Media isn’t free from the wrath of anonymous individuals who seem happy with insulting others- whether they are celebrities or personal acquaintances. These “users”, commonly referred to as “trolls” have obviously wrongfully assumed that the law’s hand does not stretch into the dark echelons of cyberspace. The recent high profile case of a user threatening Tom Daley after his failure to win a medal in the doubles 10m platform dive highlights the fact that sending “indecent or grossly offensive” messages online has the same consequence as it would in person. Although this particular teenage user had a police warning slapped on him, the Malicious Communications Act 1998 gives the courts the power to imprison someone for 6 months or fine them a total of £5,000. A tough price to pay for 140 characters.
The Twitter argument has also confounded legal eagles for years who feel that the law, penned 14 years ago, needs to be changed. The Imogen Thomas affair and the subsequent explosion on twitter naming a certain upstanding Welsh footballer as the one involved created a huge headache for the courts. 100,000 users scattered all over the world could not possibly be found guilty of contempt of court and even if they were, the whole point of a super-injunction had been breached. But the fact remains, the courts still hold the ability to prosecute anyone in breach of the laws of that particular land.
It may be easy to pass off a message as an inconsequential joke, but those few irresponsible sentences can haunt you in real life; even after you log out. As a US company, any communication transferred on twitter automatically becomes archived in the Library of Congress- forever. The golden rules of Twitter are therefore simple. Do not post anything you would not say in person to any other individual, do not say anything that can come back to trouble you in the future, and most importantly, positively take advantage of the network in a way that will benefit you.