Wick Communications

Shouting out a #window

In Online media on 5 Jul 2012 at 4:30 pm

A Manhattan Criminal Court judge ruled this week that Twitter must cough up the tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protester who was being prosecuted for disorderly conduct. Prosecutors say the tweets prove the guy knew his actions were illegal. The defendant, Malcolm Harris, says his tweets were private and that compelling Twitter to give up evidence amounted to an illegal search and seizure.

However, the judge ruled that, when you broadcast over Twitter, you have no expectation of privacy. He compared tweeting to shouting out of an open window.

The judge may have also unwittingly changed the way reporters deal with those fleeting 140-character messages. Two thoughts:

  • First, I have always thought we, as reporters, were free to report tweets. I can imagine reporting on a mayor’s tweet that he hates his colleagues or a high school athletic director’s announcement that he has hired a new football coach. It’s incumbent upon us to confirm the authenticity of the tweets. And you definitely want to follow up with real, human contact, but I can see retweeting and otherwise publishing the contents of some tweets.

Like the judge, I think tweets are different from, say, Facebook posts. Facebook users, I believe, have some expectation of privacy if they take steps to keep their posts among friends that they invite to participate. Tweets are more public by a matter of several degrees. …

  • Secondly, it’s possible that some disgruntled source or reader may ask Twitter for a record of our tweets. So now is a good time to remind everyone to be careful. If you are tweeting, you are on the record and representing your employer.



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